Jimmie Johnson Joins Richard Petty And Dale Earnhardt Sr. As A Seven-Time Champion In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson Joins Richard Petty And Dale Earnhardt Sr. As A Seven-Time Champion In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

by November 20, 2016 0 comments

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson made history on Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway by joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as a seven-time champion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after winning the Ford EcoBoost 400.

Johnson’s day certainly didn’t start off as planned. He was slated to roll off pit road in the 14th position, but prior to the start of Sunday’s race, NASCAR placed the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS in the rear of the field for an unapproved body modification. It didn’t take long for Johnson to power his way towards the top-10 and eventually the top-five. After overcoming adversity, everything fell into place, and Johnson was crowned the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. He is now tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. atop the all-time series championship list.

“My heart is so full,” Johnson said. “I had this crazy calmness over myself all day long leading in to this. Even with us running fifth and the championship not looking like it was going to be there. I just felt something. My heart was full because I was thinking of some loved one. Ricky Hendrick and his influence of me being in this race car. Dedicating the #Se7en hashtag to him and kind of building up to this. Something happened from above. It was those late restarts that gave us this opportunity. I’m just so thankful. So thankful to have Robert Niblock here from Lowe’s. They have been with me since day one, and believed in me.”

On Sunday, 41-year old Johnson also became the youngest driver to capture seven championships. Richard Petty was 42-years old in 1979, when he won his final title, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. was 43-years old, when he won his seventh championship in 1994. Johnson also reached the historical feat in a shorter amount of time. It took Johnson only 11 seasons to win seven titles, while it took Earnhardt Sr. 15 seasons and Petty 16 seasons.

“Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at,” Richard Petty said. “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.”

Sunday’s race for Johnson was all about beating the other three Championship 4 contenders, and throughout the entire night, all of the championship eligible drivers were running well inside the top-10. The moment that completely changed the race was a caution that came out on lap 253 for Dylan Lupton. What was so significant about the caution is that it bunched the Championship 4 contenders back up, and on the restart, the championship battle took a huge turn. Carl Edwards restarted at the front of the pack on the low side with Kyle Larson on his outside. When the green flag flew, Edwards dove all the way down to the bottom of the track to block fellow Championship 4 contender, Joey Logano. Unfortunately for Edwards, he was hooked into the inside wall, ricocheting back in front of the pack.

“Yeah, Joey just timed it perfectly, he moved down, I thought I could feel him a little and I just thought that – I was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I could clear him or force him to lift,” Edwards said. “I just thought I had just a little more time, but he drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down and that’s how it ended.”

With nowhere to go, Kasey Kahne plowed into the back of Edwards, sending the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota Camry flying through the air. Other drivers piled into the crash as well, including Martin Truex Jr., who escaped from his car that was nearly burning to the ground. Carl Edwards walked all the way from Turn 1 to the No. 22 pit stall. Edwards climbed the pit box and reassured Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon that the contact was just hard racing.

Edwards said, “I just wanted to make sure that they knew and they could tell Joey (Logano) – I don’t know if Joey cares or not – I assume he does, but I just wanted to make sure he knew that was just racing in my opinion and that’s hard racing and I wished them luck.”

Kyle Busch escaped the chaos, but Jimmie Johnson had to make an evasive move to not get caught up in the accident. As for Joey Logano, he sustained damage, and once the red flag was lifted, he brought the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion down pit road and to the attention of his crew for fresh tires and some maintenance.

“I can’t see my car, so I don’t know how bad it was,” Loagno said. “I was thinking we couldn’t pit. That’s kind of where my head was, but my crew chief is a lot smarter than me and that’s a good thing. We came down pit road and put tires on it and didn’t lose any spots, fixed our damage. My pit crew, that was amazing. I looked at it afterwards and was like, ‘Wow, you guys patched it up and fixed it up really good’”.

The field went back to green with just five laps to go, and immediately, Joey Logano started picking up valuable positions; however, before the field could complete a lap, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun and made heavy contact to the inside wall on the backstretch, bringing out the seventh and final caution of the season. Under the caution, Kyle Busch hit pit road hoping that fresh tires would give him any kind of an advantage.

“We were just too far back,” Busch said. “In order to make up that many spots, we were going to need more than just two laps, but we were going to be able to do it if there were more laps, but that’s the choice we made and we didn’t feel like we had a shot to win if we didn’t come down. So, we were going to just be fighting them off from that point.

Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson brought the field to the green flag. Johnson got a great restart in NASCAR Overtime with Joey Logano right on his back bumper. In the end, Johnson went on to win his 80th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race after leading only three laps.

“Just beyond words,” Johnson said. “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; from my dirt days – my parents first and foremost, my brothers, my wife and family today.”

Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus is making history as well. With seven championships, he’s just one more title away at tying the all-time championship list as well. NASCAR Hall of Famer, Dale Inman was able to secure eight championship throughout his career.

“I’m pretty speechless right now,” Knaus said. “It has been an awesome, awesome journey but it has been a very trying season. We’ve had a lot of good things.  We have had some difficulties along the way. But to be able to be where we are at today with Lowe’s, one team, one driver, one crew chief, one sponsor…to be able to win all seven championships is just awesome.  I can’t thank everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet enough. All of our other corporate partners.  The guys and gals at HMS have buckled down and worked so hard to be able to give us the race cars we needed to have to be able to compete. It definitely showed. We got three wins in the second half of the season is pretty phenomenal.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick extended the all-time championship list on Sunday. He now has 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles. Jeff Gordon was the first Hendrick Motorsports driver to earn a championship back in 1995. Terry Labonte won the title the following season, followed by Gordon in 1997 and 1998. Gordon also won the 2001 title as well. As for Jimmie Johnson, his six other titles came in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013.

“It is unbelievable,” Hendrick said. “Jimmie was using the No. 7 that Ricky had and dedicating it to him. That was so special. To see him tie Richard and Dale, it is just unbelievable. I’m still in shock. I think it will sink in later tonight. But we are so proud of him. To do it through all these different formats is so special. What a great representative of the sport he is. Me getting into the Hall (of Fame) this year, and him celebrating. This is beyond exciting. I’m so proud of him and the team. So proud so proud.”

On top of the series title, Hendrick Motorsports also claimed the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors with Chase Elliott. The Georgia native finished out the season ninth in the standings with 10 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes.

“I’m definitely proud to earn the Rookie of the Year honors,” Elliott said. “It’s been a long season, a lot of ups and downs, but we’re happy to be here and definitely enjoyed racing against those guys for the Rookie of the Year this season. Felt like it was a fun group, and we’re excited to get on to season two.”

As for the other three Championship 4 drivers, Logano finished fourth, Busch finished sixth and Edwards a disappointing 34th. The Championship 4 only led 57 laps throughout the 268-lap race. Out of the three, Edwards led the most as he was out in front of the field for 47 laps. The Ford EcoBoost 400 had 20 lead changes among six different leaders.

Other notable finishes included those of Brian Scott and Tony Stewart, who made their final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts on Sunday. Scott was the highest finishing of the two. He brought his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 44 Safeway Ford Fusion home in the 15th position. He ended his series career with 53 starts, one pole, one top-five and one top-10 finish.

Tony Stewart ended his 18-year career in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Sunday with a 22nd place finish. Stewart has competed in 618 races, and he has accumulated 49 wins, 15 poles, 187 top-five and 308 top-10 finishes. After the race, Stewart walked onto the championship stage and congratulated the newly crowned seven-time champion. Johnson even gave Stewart his championship-winning helmet.

“I’m proud,” Stewart said. “It’s been an awesome 21 years racing in NASCAR with the XFINITY Series and the Cup Series. That is really cool to see that No. 48 up there making history. Now we’ve got three guys in the seven win club. Pretty proud day, I was glad I got to race with him on the day he got his seventh.”

“We actually had a car that was capable of competing,” Scott said. “That kept us in the race and kept us able to hang on when we took the wave around to get back on the lead lap. I thought we were gonna have a shot for a top 10, but it just didn’t play into our favor with not having a car that was very good on restarts the first couple of laps. I’m proud of my guys though for fighting all year. Even through the struggles it’s been a fun year.”

The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series will be the 59th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Right this moment, NASCAR’s premier series doesn’t currently have a title sponsor; this year was Sprint’s final season. As the off-season progresses, many announcements will begin to paint a better picture of the 2017 season. One thing that is certain is that next year is going to be here before you know. It’ll be exciting to see what 2017 has in store.

Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

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Hunter Thomas
Hunter Thomas is a journalist who grew up in Darlington, S.C. His first motorsports-based endeavor was working as the Public Relations Director at Dillon Motor Speedway in Dillon, S.C., and his journalism start came while he was freelancing at his hometown newspaper, the News & Press while in college.

Hunter has been working within the NASCAR industry since 2010, and throughout the years, he has done everything from PR/Marketing for drivers and teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, to working at Rockingham Speedway. As a journalist, Hunter has covered everything from regional short tracks to NASCAR, ARCA Racing Series, World of Outlaws, Red Bull Global Rallycross, NHRA and much more.

Follow Hunter Thomas on Twitter by following, @HunterThomas08

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