Johnson Captures Historic Fourth Consecutive Cup Series Championship
Jimmie Johnson won his record fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship.
By Sporting News Wire Service
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Done deal.
"How 'bout some history?!" Jimmie Johnson shouted as the crossed the finish line at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
No, Johnson didn't win Sunday's Ford 400. Denny Hamlin did. But Johnson accomplished something far more significant than a victory in a single event. His fifth-place finish was more than good enough to clinch his fourth Cup Series title in a row, breaking a tie with Cale Yarborough for most consecutive championships.
"History, boys," Johnson continued. "No one ever -- ever! I don't know how to thank you guys. Thank you so much."
Johnson's title run also completed Hendrick Motorsports' sweep of the top three positions in the final standings, the first time an organization has achieved that distinction. In winning his fourth Chase, Johnson finished 141 points ahead of Mark Martin, who entered Sunday's race 108 points behind his teammate and finished 12th.
Jeff Gordon secured a third-place finish in the points with a sixth-place run.
All but lost in the hoopla surrounding Johnson's record run was Hamlin's fourth victory of the season and his second in the Chase. Surging into the lead after a restart on Lap 222 of 267, Hamlin crossed the stripe 2.632 seconds ahead of Jeff Burton, who posted his second consecutive runner-up finish and his fourth top-10 in a row.
Burton's Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick ran third, and Kurt Busch locked up fourth in the Chase standings with a fourth-place finish.
After Hamlin did a celebratory burnout on the frontstretch, and the championship stage was rolled into position, Johnson did an elaborate burnout of his own that started near the entrance to pit road and continued down the front straightaway.
After the smoke settled, Johnson embraced the enormity of what he had just accomplished.
"The truth of it is, to do something that's never been done in this sport -- to love the sport like I do and respect it like I do -- and the greats: Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon ... to do something they've never done is so awesome. To win four championships in eight years, what this team has done ... I don't know where to start. It's unbelievable."
With his niece Alesha Gainey facing an emergency liver transplant in North Carolina, team owner Rick Hendrick wasn't at Homestead to celebrate Johnson's record and several others that accrued to the organization. Hendrick Motorsports won its ninth owners' championship, tying Petty Enterprises for most all time.
In addition, Hendrick won its aggregate 12th owners' championship in NASCAR's top three national series, a NASCAR best. Crew chief Chad Knaus also extended his record number of consecutive Cup titles to four.
"Heavy hearts and prayers with the boss man and the family," Martin said, paying homage to Hendrick. "That sort of takes a little bit of the shine off of it. But congratulations to Hendrick Motorsports, to Jimmie Johnson -- Superman -- and to my team."
Johnson never let up in pursuit of the championship. He raced hard for wins in nine of the 10 Chase races, and for all 400 miles at Homestead, where he threatened to try to run down the leaders to better his eventual fifth-place finish.
It made for a sometimes testy drive into history for Johnson, who was at times annoyed at rival drivers and even Gordon, the mentor and teammate who helped him land his job with Hendrick Motorsports.
Nobody gave Johnson anything, either. The other drivers raced hard around him all day, making Johnson earn every point.
After several tense laps chasing Gordon for fifth place -- Johnson at one point complained over his radio, "I let him go, now why won't he just go somewhere!" -- he asked Knaus if he had enough time to catch Hamlin and the leaders.
Hamlin, who collected his eighth career victory, won from the 38th starting position in a No. 11 Toyota that improved as daylight turned to night, thanks to crew chief Mike Ford's astute adjustments to the car. He managed to keep pace with Johnson at times during the Chase but fell out of contention with three DNFs.
"We're going to be there, I promise you," Hamlin said. "I promise you, the next couple years, we're going to win the championship. But right now, there's no one more deserving than Jimmie."
Even Gordon, who won four quick titles early in his career but has been shut out since 2001, is impressed.
"As a competitor, that Johnson ticks me off. As a friend, teammate, fellow car owner, they're amazing," Gordon said. "I never thought in my career, in my lifetime, I'd see somebody win four in a row. To see it happening right in front of your eyes makes it even more extraordinary."
Added Burton: "If you would have told me four years ago that someone would win four championships in a row, I would have told you you were crazy."
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