Jimmie: Almost Winner And Still Champion!
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Jimmie Johnson made the fewest mistakes of the three contenders in Sunday’s season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, finished second and won his fifth straight Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson, who started the day second in points – 15 behind Denny Hamlin – won by 39 points over Hamlin, who finished 14th.
Forty-one points back was third-place Kevin Harvick, who also finished third in the race.
“Can’t say enough about Jimmie,” Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, said.
“Finally, finally,” Johnson will get the respect he deserves, Knaus said.
Edwards, who led a race-best 189 laps, won his second straight race. The margin of victory over Johnson was 1.6 seconds.
“I’m so proud to be in this position,” Johnson said. “I think we showed this year what this team is made of.”
Hamlin said no way what happened to him and his hopes on Sunday were indicative of the quality of his team.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Hamlin said. “Just circumstances.”
Hamlin, who started the race 36th on the starting grid, ran into those circumstances early. On lap 24, he slid up the track and into Greg Biffle and was forced into the infield grass on the back stretch.
“The 16 (Biffle) turned right into us,” Hamlin said over his radio. “Right down on us.”
Biffle begged to differ. “I tried to give him room,” he said.
Replays appeared to back up Biffle.
Hamlin kept his car off the wall but suffered a damaged front splitter. He also lost track position and appeared to be in serious Chase trouble.
He said his car never ran the same after the Biffle incident.
“Our car was lightning fast up until that wreck,” the Joe Gibbs Racin driver said of his Toyota. “When we hit the 16, it just knocked the toe out and the car just didn’t drive the same for the rest of the day. We did our best to try to repair it, but it just wasn’t as fast as it was before. We were right around the top-10 when that happened. It’s just circumstances. But, you know, we had a great year. This is a year where we won the most races that we’ve ever won, we contended like we’ve never contended before and just circumstances took us out on this last one.”
Hamlin did spring back to life after a pit stop with just under 100 laps to go. He pitted 15th, restarted 14th and 15 laps later, was sixth – three positions behind Harvick and three ahead of Johnson.
He temporarily had his points lead back.
Harvick’s troubles began two laps later when he was penalized from first to the back of the lead pack because of a speeding penalty on a caution. He had taken the lead on the pit stop and appeared to pick up five bonus points.
But when the race restarted, he was moved back to 26th.
On his radio, he said to crew chief Gil Martin, “There’s no way, Gil.”
But Harvick, too, battled back into contention. Two laps after a restart with 62 laps to go, he passed Hamlin for ninth place.
Then it was Hamlin’s turn – again – to fall back. With 67 laps to go, an indecision on whether or not to pit saw Hamlin stay out.
With the older tires, he failed to gain ground on Johnson, who, with 48 laps to go, moved to second place behind leader Edwards.
The coupe de gras for Hamlin’s hopes came with 25 laps to go. That’s when Harvick dumped Kyle Busch, whose car hit the inside wall and caught fire, to bring out a caution.
Because the wreck happened so close on the heels of green flag pit stops, Hamlin was caught at the rear of the lead lap. He restarted 18th with 16 laps to go.
Johnson was second to Edwards on the restart and Harvick was fourth.
Johnson never got close enough to pass Edwards for the lead and the win, but he didn’t need to.
(This story will be updated shortly)One Comment