HOMESTEAD, Fla. –Jimmie Johnson made history Sunday night. The Hendrick Motorsports driver secured his seventh NASCAR Cup title and the race win at Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, unlike his previous titles, and race wins, Johnson earned his place in history.
One of four contenders for the 2016 title, Johnson overcame several challenges and for much of the 267 laps Johnson was not among his fellow contenders. In the end however, Johnson charged to the front, for the second time in the race, and went onto to victory and his historic title.
“Oh my gosh, there is no, no way on earth,” Johnson said. “Just beyond words. Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. “
“Chad called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs,” he added. “Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship.”
Johnson was handicapped even before the race began. A NASCAR official noticed an issue with the A-pillar of the car after he had been rolled to the starting grid. The team was forced to repair it, and have it re-inspected. Because of the changes, Johnson was forced to start the race in the rear of the field.
He was 14th by lap 17, and fifth by lap 46.
As the race wore on, Johnson seemed to have trouble finding speed to keep up with his fellow title challengers. A crash in the closing laps between two of the four title contenders opened the door. Johnson took advantage, charged forward during a green-white-checkered flag finish, and joined the Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the only driver in NASCAR with seven NASCAR Cup titles.
Johnson’s chance came on a restart on lap 257, 10 laps from the end. Kyle Larson who was in control much of the second half of the race and led a race high 132 laps, was leading with Carl Edwards, who had dueled with Kyle Busch as the laps wound down, looking for the led. Joey Logano, one of the four contenders, was the only driver of the four who had taken tires on the stop just before the restart.
Logano dove to inside of Edwards as the two raced towards turn 1. Edwards, sensing Logano, slid down to block. Logano got into the rear of Edwards, sending Edwards Toyota nose first into the inside wall. Shortly after, the car was sent airborne after being hit by one of several others involved in the crash.
Those included Martin Truex Jr. whose car burst into flames, causing several tense moments before the uninjured driver got out.
NASCAR was forced to display the red flag for just over 30 minutes. Edwards’s title hopes were over, but he walked from the site of the accident near turn 1, to the infield care center near turn 3, stopping along the way to apologize to the crew of Logano.
When the yellow was finally displayed, Kyle Busch was the only driver among the remaining three who pitted hoping fresh tires would be the key. He restarted 13th.
Up front, Larson led to the green, but Johnson shot to the inside and emerged with the lead. Logano made an attempt but came up short.
“I hate being that close to a championship and not getting it,” Logano said. “The team did a great job all day. We had a good race car and we put ourselves in position to win. No one made any mistakes or anything like that on our pit crew.”
“That last restart, I was hoping to get Jimmie there and trying to get either to the inside or outside of him. I just timed it a little bit wrong to get underneath him. I just didn’t have enough time to get under him. We lost some time there and unfortunately we finish second. The championship means so much and everyone forgets about second place. That is what stinks. But overall I am proud of this team. This will be motivation for next year. This hurts.”
Johnson had no challengers on the final lap, won the race, his first at Homestead, and the title, his seventh.
“It’s big,” Johnson said. “It has a different meanings. The No. 7 has a very special place in my heart with Ricky Hendrick. As a lot of people know. For some reason I just felt good and calm today and things just kind of unfolded at the end for us. I know it was help from above. In my heart I wanted to believe it would happen. It has and I just can’t believe it. Thank you so much!”
“Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at,” Richard Petty said. “Jimmie and his team have done that tonight. They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality. They did what they needed to do and now they are at seven championships. Congratulations to him and his team.”
“Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport.”
Larson held on for second, Kevin Harvick third, Logano fourth, and Jamie McMurray fifth.
Busch rallied to finished sixth, Matt Kenseth seventh, followed by AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin and Michael McDowell rounding out the top ten. Tony Stewart in his final race finished 22nd, two laps down. The full results can be found here.