The joy of six: Jimmie Johnson wins 6th Sprint Cup title (VIDEO)

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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…

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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