Done Deal: Johnson Wins Sixth Cup Championship
It didn’t come without some tense moments, but Sprint Cup championship No. 6 did come for Jimmie Johnson at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
Johnson finished eighth in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 but that allowed him to clinch a title that is just one shy of tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the all-time championship lead.
Matt Kenseth, who started the race 28 points behind Johnson, finished second on Sunday and 19 points short of winning his second championship.
Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing won the race and Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports, who battled metal-to-metal with Kenseth over the final 12 laps, was third.
The nervous moments for Johnson came with about 75 laps when he was involved in an accordion stack-up on a restart. Running a couple roles behind the leaders, the 48 Chevrolet suffered fender damage and was bumped well back into the field.
But he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team recovered nicely and moved steadily forward into the top 10.
Then it was time for an emotional meeting with team owner Rick Hendrick and wife Chandra in Victory Lane. And then, party time.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Johnson said in Victory Lane. “I’m so excited to have a six pack.
“This is extremely sweet. I feel like those five years were a blur, and things happened so
fast. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it or appreciate it or didn’t respect what happened. It just went by so fast, it seems like. I’m really going to slow things down here and enjoy it. This is so, so sweet.”
Kenseth led all but about 10 of the first 139 laps. But on lap 140 of the 267-lap race, Earnhardt Jr. raced toward the front of the field and passed Kenseth for the lead.
Two laps later, during green flag pit stops, Earnhardt pitted, but when the pitting cycling through, he still had the lead. On lap 152, a caution flag waved for debris and the leaders pitted.
Kenseth beat Earnhardt out of the pits and had the lead once again. On lap 167, Hamlin passed Kenseth to claim the lead.
On lap 189, more debris brought out another caution and the field pitted. When the race restarted with 74 laps to go, Hamlin led, Jeff Gordon was second and Earnhardt was third. Kenseth was fourth and Johnson dropped back several spots to eighth.
On the restart, cars stacked up just behind the leaders. Several cars suffered sheet metal damage – including that of Johnson. The damage to the car was not serious but the dropped to 23rd place. Kenseth dropped to ninth in the scramble.
“I had contact from behind that pushed me up into the 20 (Kenseth) and both of us were out of control and sliding toward the outside fence at that point,” Johnson said. “So, I didn’t know what to think. They got us mired back in traffic and made the last 50 laps kind of interesting. We still had an awesome race car and got the job done.”
With 60 laps to go, Paul Menard blew a tire and that brought out a caution. Johnson was running 15th and Kenseth seventh heading into the pits.
When the race restarted sith 56 laps to go, Harvick, who short-pitted for just two tires, had the lead. Kenseth was fifth and Johnson 17th.
With 54 laps to go, Harvick was passed by Keselowski. On the two tires, Harvick continued to drop spots and with 50 laps to go, was fifth.
Johnson, meanwhile, having had his bent left-front tire bent back into shape during the pit stop, had moved up to 13th.
With just 43 laps to go, Earnhardt shot from third to first when he passed second-place Hamlin and then Keselowski on the high side.
A couple of laps later, a fire broke out on the rear of Menard’s car. Menard got the car into his pit stall under green but as his crew went to put the tire out, the left burning left rear tire exploded in dramatic fashion.
Nobody was injured but out came the yellow. When it did come out, Kenseth was third and Johnson 13th.
During the ensuing pit stops, Hamlin was able to get past Earnhardt and into the lead. Kenseth restarted with 28 lapst to go in third place, Johnson 10 spots behind that and Harvick one spot behind Johnson.
From there, it was smooth racing until the historic finish.
“This is extremely sweet,” Johnson said. “I feel like those five years were a blur, and things happened so fast. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it or appreciate it or didn’t respect what happened. It just went by so fast, it seems like. I’m really going to slow things down here and enjoy it. This is so, so sweet.”
Kenseth was gracious in the wake of his near miss.
“It was a really great night for us. I’m so proud of the Dollar General Toyota team,” he said, “everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin). Especially for Denny, it’s been a tough, long year for him and this is what we all needed honestly. This will really give us a lot of confidence heading into next season. Happy for him. We had a good night – we were really dominant when the sun was out. We struggled a little bit when it went down – a lot of that will lay on the driver probably a little reluctant to get up in the groove where I needed to run to make any speed. Overall, great day, great season.”
Sidelined for four races with a broken back earlier in the season, Hamlin took the checkered flag for the first time this season, the second time at Homestead and the 23rd time in his career. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has won at least one race in each of his eight full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Ford EcoBoost 400
Sunday, November 17, 2013
1. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, $322350.
2. (1) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267, $293251.
3. (21) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $203860.
4. (8) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267, $174235.
5. (25) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 267, $167968.
6. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267, $156701.
7. (11) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267, $140293.
8. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 267, $119518.
9. (7) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, $134221.
10. (6) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267, $126246.
11. (26) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 267, $123596.
12. (18) Carl Edwards, Ford, 267, $115435.
13. (13) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267, $94060.
14. (10) Elliott Sadler(i), Toyota, 267, $88110.
15. (20) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 267, $107593.
16. (19) Aric Almirola, Ford, 267, $116421.
17. (15) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, $113343.
18. (27) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 267, $105999.
19. (22) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 267, $121585.
20. (24) Danica Patrick #, Chevrolet, 267, $80935.
21. (2) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267, $104255.
22. (9) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #, Ford, 267, $122396.
23. (14) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 267, $85360.
24. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 267, $91660.
25. (30) Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 267, $93543.
26. (23) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 267, $103724.
27. (31) David Gilliland, Ford, 266, $90368.
28. (40) Casey Mears, Ford, 266, $95568.
29. (29) David Ragan, Ford, 266, $93157.
30. (28) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 265, $103230.
31. (32) David Reutimann, Toyota, 265, $74685.
32. (37) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 264, $71960.
33. (39) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 264, $71760.
34. (41) Ken Schrader, Ford, 263, $71560.
35. (42) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 263, $71360.
36. (36) AJ Allmendinger, Toyota, 257, $79135.
37. (33) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 248, $78912.
38. (38) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 242, $65750.
39. (12) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Accident, 229, $91741.
40. (17) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, Engine, 223, $57750.
41. (35) Josh Wise(i), Ford, Rear Gear, 119, $53750.
42. (43) Tony Raines(i), Chevrolet, Vibration, 104, $49750.
43. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, Brakes, 63, $46250.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 130.693 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 03 Mins, 52 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.799 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 37 laps.
Lead Changes: 22 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: M. Kenseth 1-11; D. Hamlin 12-13; M. Kenseth 14; K. Harvick 15; M. Kenseth 16-25; D. Ragan 26; K. Harvick 27; Kurt Busch 28-31; M. Kenseth 32-91; K. Larson(i) 92; M. Kenseth 93-139; D. Earnhardt Jr. 140; M. Kenseth 141-142; D. Earnhardt Jr. 143-153; M. Kenseth 154-166; D. Hamlin 167-207; K. Harvick 208-213; B. Keselowski 214-222; D. Hamlin 223; D. Earnhardt Jr. 224-235; D. Hamlin 236-239; D. Earnhardt Jr. 240-243; D. Hamlin 244-267.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): M. Kenseth 7 times for 144 laps; D. Hamlin 5 times for 72 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 4 times for 28 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 9 laps; K. Harvick 3 times for 8 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 4 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 1 lap; K. Larson(i) 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 13 in Points: J. Johnson – 2,419; M. Kenseth – 2,400; K. Harvick – 2,385; Kyle Busch – 2,364; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 2,363; J. Gordon – 2,337; C. Bowyer – 2,336; J. Logano – 2,323; G. Biffle – 2,321; Kurt Busch – 2,309; R. Newman – 2,286; K. Kahne – 2,283; C. Edwards – 2,282.One Comment