Jimmie Johnson earns sixth NMPA Richard Petty Driver of the Year award

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CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson may be getting ready to pursue a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship in a couple of weeks, but honors continue to roll in for what he accomplished in 2013, namely earning his sixth Cup title  in eight seasons.

Johnson received his sixth Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award Sunday night from the National Motorsports Press Association as it wrapped up its annual two-day convention in suburban Charlotte prior to Charlotte Motor Speedway preparing to host the 32nd annual NASCAR Media Tour. The four-day Tour kicks off Monday.

Johnson was unable to attend the ceremony due to another commitment, but prepared a video thanking the NMPA for the award.

Later, when the award was announced on Twitter, Johnson responded almost immediately with his own tweet, saying simply and humbly, “Such an honor.”

Former NASCAR racer Rick Mast also congratulated Johnson via the Twittersphere, writing, “Don’t say this often. Very deserving my man. Not everyone understands what RP did for this sport.”

Also honored Sunday was the late Marcy Scott, former Director of Media Relations and Marketing of Atlanta Speedway, who received the prestigious Ken Patterson Helping Others Award as well as the 2014 NMPA Spirit Award. Scott passed away recently after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”