HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Depending on who you were reading about, each of the four 2016 NASCAR Championship 4 contenders was a favorite heading into the final Cup race of the year Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Carl Edwards was the driver who was looking for redemption for a tiebreaking loss to Tony Stewart in 2011.
Joey Logano was the kid who was going for his second chance at a title in his team owner’s 50th anniversary year.
Kyle Busch was defending his unlikely title win from last season, where he overcame nearly impossible odds to win it all.
In the end it was Jimmie Johnson who won the race and made history winning his seventh NASCAR title tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
The other three certainly had their moment in the sun during the 400 mile race Sunday. Edwards battled his teammate Kyle Busch and was looking for the lead on a restart on lap 257, 10 laps from the finish. Logano, who had just gotten fresh tires, charged up and dove to the inside of Edwards. Edwards tried to block and his Toyota was sent nose first into the inside wall.
His title hopes dashed, Edwards walked from the scene of the accident in turn 1 to the infield care center near turn 3. He stopped by the pit box for Logano’s team.
“I just wanted to say, ‘Hey, that’s just racing and good luck to you guys.’” Edwards said “There’s so much on the line. I want to make sure that – I don’t want to be anything extra to mess with Joey (Logano). He’s done a good job and they deserve to go have a good, fair race.”
“Carl is a good person,” Logano said, “And I got to know all three of these drivers — I’ve known Kyle really well in the past, but to get to know Jimmie and Carl, they’re three stand-up just good people, you know, and it’s hard to find that in this day and age, especially in professional sports, and especially at the top of professional sports. Usually the ones that are the best aren’t the nicest to people.”
“But in this case, this Championship Four was some really just genuine people, and we knew we were going to have to race each other hard,” he added. “We knew that. That wasn’t a surprise.”
As for Logano a decision late in the race to put on four tires gave him a shot to win. After a 30 minute red flag, and a green white checkered flag finish, Logano didn’t have enough to challenge Johnson, and Logano settled for fourth.
“Looking back at it, I wish I didn’t, didn’t have to start behind the leader,” Logano said. “Larson would have had the advantage and then be able to push him out ahead and then be to the point where you’re next to the 48 so you can clear him.”
“Could have been the difference between finishing second and winning the championship. It’s crazy to think that it’s that much and it’s just that little bit that could have been the difference. Like I said, it’s the part that stinks a little bit. If the caution came out sooner for the crash behind us, we would have been fourth, and then possibly could have won the thing, at least the championship.
“But it is what it is. It’s motivation. I can promise you that, because it don’t feel too good right now. But it gives us motivation to come back harder next year and make sure that we have another shot at this thing and do it again.
I’m proud of the effort. Like I said, we did such a good job today. That part I’m proud of. If you look at what we did a couple years ago and what we did today, it’s a complete 180, and I couldn’t be more proud of the race team for that reason.
“But like I said, it’s second (in the Chase), so second always hurts the most.”
Taking a cue from Logano, Busch decided prior to the final restart to take four tires in an attempt at victory. Without enough laps, Busch restarted 13th but only had time to make it to sixth.
“That was pretty interesting,” Busch said. “It was really, really crazy that then we had that red flag and we all kind of sat there, and then Logano and those guys sixth on back, I guess, they came in and pitted and put tires on. We had one straightaway on our tires and they came in and put tires on in order to go back out, and they just blitzed right up through the middle there and got to us before we even got to Turn 1. So that kind of just killed it and ruined our race.”