Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports are back on top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Johnson finished ninth in this evening’s season-ending Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was enough to claim his sixth career Sprint Cup championship by 19 points over Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth left almost nothing on the table in South Florida, leading the most laps en route to a second-place finish. But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver also needed a big stumble from Johnson in order to have a real shot at the title.
It almost happened. On a restart with 74 laps to go, Johnson fell from eighth to 23rd after being caught in a stack-up caused by his Hendrick teammate, Jeff Gordon, spinning his tires.
Johnson picked up some slight left-front fender damage but Kenseth also lost ground in the fracas, which somehow did not end in a crash. A caution on Lap 206 of 267 then allowed Johnson’s No. 48 team to pull that damaged fender away from the tire during a pit stop.
The restart with 57 laps to go saw Johnson take the green in 17th, but he had risen back into the Top 10 by the time the yellow came back out again with 37 laps left after Paul Menard’s rear tire caught on fire and then exploded moments after his No. 27 car came to his pit box. Thankfully, neither Menard or anyone on his Richard Childress Racing crew was injured in the incident.
Following yellow-flag stops, Johnson was 13th after taking four tires but moved forward several spots in his final green-flag stint without any problems. A few moments after Denny Hamlin had taken the checkered flag for the first win in his tumultuous, injury-marred 2013 season, Johnson crossed the stripe in ninth position to start yet another championship celebration in South Florida.
“Yes, yes, yes!,” Johnson screamed joyfully at the end of the race over his team’s radio. “Thank you, guys. What a race team! You guys are amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
On the other end, Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, returned the good vibes.
“Thank you, my man – thank you,” Knaus replied back. “What a spectacular job this season.”
Knaus then thanked the entire team for their efforts before telling Johnson to “get a sip of that damn bottle you got in [the car] because that’s the last healthy liquid you’re gonna have for the rest of the night.”
More to come…