NASCAR Cup: Jimmie Johnson wins seventh championship with Homestead victory
Jimmie Johnson celebrates his seventh Sprint Cup and win of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Jimmie Johnson joined NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in the NASCAR record book on Sunday, claiming his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup by winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His latest win was his fifth of the season, most of any driver in 2016, and the latest championship was the 12th for Hendrick Motorsports.
“It’s big. It has a different meaning,” Johnson said. “The number seven has a very special place in my heart with Rick 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 just wanted to believe it would happen. It has, and I just can’t believe it.”
Johnson’s drive to the win and the 2016 championship wasn’t without its bumps, though. Despite qualifying 14th, he started in the back because of an unapproved body change. He made up 10 positions in the opening lap, and by lap 30, he was inside the top-10. Throughout most of the race, Johnson ran in the back of the top-10, usually running sixth, until he got up to second just before a seventh and final caution for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wreck that extended the race distance by a lap, from 267 to 268 laps. Johnson took the lead late and led a total of three laps in the race — the final three laps.
“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. Luck came our way, and we were able to win the race and win the championship. I wouldn’t be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance.”
Johnson took his one and only lead of the race with a pass on Kyle Larson. After leading nearly half the race, Larson had to settle for runner-up honors after leading 132 laps.
Kevin Harvick finished third after leading 79 laps in the first half of the race, and Joey Logano was fourth, second among the Championship Four drivers. Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-five. A third Championship Four driver, Kyle Busch, finished sixth.
Carl Edwards was the highest-running championship competitors throughout much of the race, running second to Larson, but on a restart on lap 257, Logano got a fast restart that Edwards tried to block. The result was a multi-car wreck that retired Edwards from the race, sent Martin Truex Jr.’s car up in flames and collected the cars of Kasey Kahne, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott. Logano sustained significant damage, but he was able to continue.
“I think it (blame for the wreck) was shared; you know what I mean? I think it was just racing,” Edwards said. “I haven’t seen a real close-up view, but the way I had it figured is, first of all, that was the race of my life up to that point. That was a lot of fun, and Joey was so good on the short run. I don’t know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart. I thought we were — I thought everything was going to work out and Jason (Hedlesky, spotter) told me he was looking low and I — he told me, basically, he was there. I knew what Jason was saying, and I just pushed the issue as far as I could, because I figured that was the race, there.”
After a nearly 31-minute red flag for track clean-up, Larson was the race leader, with Harvick in second and Busch in third as the highest-running Chase driver. After pitting for repairs, Logano restarted eighth.
Johnson got up to second when the race returned to green and was next to Larson on the front row on the next and final restart following the Stenhouse wreck.
Other top-10 finishers included Matt Kenseth in seventh, A.J. Allmendinger in eighth, Denny Hamlin ninth, and Michael McDowell was 10th. Tony Stewart was 22nd in what is expected to be his final Sprint Cup Series race as a driver. Brian Scott was 15th in his final Cup race, as he recently announced his retirement at the close of his rookie season in the series.
“I’m excited,” Scott said. “I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m excited to find out.”