By Steve Mickey
Jimmie Johnson left Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday night as the newest member of the most exclusive club in all of Sprint Cup. It took a NASCAR overtime before Jimmie Johnson was able to pull away from Joey Logano and win his seventh Sprint Cup title to tie Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with the most titles in the history of the sport.
This was the first title for Johnson since 2013 and the first title for the Hendrick Motorsports driver since the current Chase for the Sprint Cup format began in 2014. Johnson has the distinction of being the youngest of the three seven-time champions as he is only 41 while Petty was 42 when he won the last title of his career and Earnhardt was 43 in 1994 when he claimed his last championship.
This may have been the toughest of his seven titles for Johnson as he never was the dominant driver during the season as he had to endure through a 25-race winless streak that was the longest of his career. All of that turned around as the 26-race regular season ended and the Chase got underway as he was able to navigate his way through the three elimination rounds with wins at Charlotte and Martinsville.
His championship Sunday turned out to be anything but normal for him and crew chief Chad Knaus as he had to start from the rear of the field after his Chevrolet was found to have unapproved adjustments during inspection before the start of the race. Johnson had already posted two Cup wins after having to start at the rear of the field so he knew what it would take to get to the front.
Johnson’s Chevrolet never did have the speed of his fellow Championship 4 drivers Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards but he quickly worked his way up through the field as Knaus made his car better with every pit stop. As the final laps were going off the board and it seemed as if the outcome was going to come down between Edwards and Logano, Johnson had positioned himself to take advantage of any mistake made by the leaders.
The opportunity that Johnson needed finally occurred on a restart on lap 257 of the scheduled 268 lap event when Edwards started on the inside of Kyle Larson in second place with Logano behind him in third. Logano got a great restart and tried to get to the inside of Edwards but with the title in sight, Edwards went down on the apron to make the block. Enough contact was made to send Edwards into the inside wall causing heavy damage to his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and taking away any chance he had of posting his first ever series title.
The crash put the race under the red flag but once it resumed, Johnson finally found himself in a position to contend for both the win and the title. Larson was still in the lead once the racing resumed but Johnson was the highest starter of the Championship 4. He as able to hang on to the lead until the final restart to begin the overtime when Johnson was able to make the pass as the two went through turns 1 and 2. Once in the lead, Johnson was able to hang on to win the 80th race of his career as he was followed across the finish line by Logano in fourth, Busch in in sixth and Carl Edwards in 34th.
CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES: Johnson’s title was the record-extending 12th Cup championship for Hendrick Motorsports. Knaus’ seventh title as a crew chief now leaves him one shy of the all-time record of set by Hall of Famer Dale Inman. Toyota won the Sprint Cup Manufacturer’s Championship as well as the Manufacturer’s title in the Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.