Jimmie Johnson won Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship matching the marks of NASCAR legends, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in an unlikely finish in the season’s last race.
Johnson took the lead on a restart with two laps remaining in overtime, beating Kyle Larson to the checkers and inciting a wild pit road celebration in the No. 48 Lowe’s Hendrick Motorsports pits. He had to start the race at the rear of the field after he was found to have an unapproved body modification in pre-race inspection. At the end, he used every bit of strategy to take the worst car of the four during much of the race and into the championship lead.
To win the title, Johnson had to finish ahead of Joey Logano, who was fourth, Kyle Busch in sixth and Carl Edwards, 34th. Edwards and Logano were involved in an accident on a late restart with 10 to go while Edwards was running second, completely changing the complexion of the championship race when he attempted to block Logano, causing a multi-car accident. The race was red flagged for 31 minutes and nine seconds after the wreck for cleanup, involving nine other cars. At the time, Johnson was third. On that restart he moved up to second when the yellow waved again for the spinning car of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., sending the race into overtime, and Johnson was in position to pounce now in the outside lane in second place next to leader Kyle Larson. The first OT green waved and, charging forward, Johnson heard from his spotter ‘clear’ on his radio. He moved up ahead of Larson, eventually winning by 0.466 of a second.
“Oh, my gosh, there is no, no way on earth,” said Johnson, who picked up his first victory at Homestead, his fifth of the season and the 80th of his career. “Just beyond words. Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) 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. So grateful for the opportunity, and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”
The King, Richard Petty, won his last championship in 1979 over Darrell Waltrip at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway; he congratulated Johnson in clinching his record-tying seventh title released a statement with some very positive words.
“Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at,” said Petty. “Jimmie and his team have done that tonight. They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality. They did what they needed to do and now they are at seven championships. Congratulations to him and his team. Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport.”
Likewise, Dale Jr. stepped up to offer his congratulations, saying his late father, Dale Earnhardt, who last won his championship in 1994, would have been proud of this. “Dad would have been one the first to shake his hand and congratulate him.”
Runner-up Logano’s hopes of his first title were thwarted, as he dropped to fourth on the restart with Johnson zipping away, much to his disappointment.
“That last restart, I was hoping to get Jimmie there and trying to get either to the inside or outside of him,” Logano said. “I just timed it a little bit wrong to get underneath him. I bumped him at the start/finish line, and I just didn’t have enough time to get under him.
“We lost some time there, and unfortunately we finish second. The championship means so much and everyone forgets about second place. That’s what stinks. Overall, I’m proud of this team. This will be motivation for next year. This hurts.”
After Johnson and Larson in the order, 2014 champ Kevin Harvick finished third, followed by Logano, who finished second in the final standings leaving Jamie McMurray to round out the top five.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart, retiring after an 18-year Sprint Cup career and 618 starts, finished 22nd in his final race in NASCAR’s elite division. Chase Elliott won the Sunoco NASCAR Rookie-of-the-year honors.
Toyota won its first manufacturers’ championship in the Sprint Cup division in their 10th season of NASCAR competition.
Now the season is over and will resume at the Daytona 500 kicking off the 2017 NASCAR Cup season on Sunday, February 26, at 3 p.m. on the FOX Network.