Jimmie Johnson capped a wild night of racing by winning his record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday with a late-race charge to victory in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Johnson led only three laps all night long, but they were the three that mattered — the final three.
It was an utterly unpredictable night, with a lot of ebbs and flows before Johnson finally sealed the deal with his historic victory.
“Oh my gosh, there is no, no way on earth,” Johnson said when asked if he thought a seventh title was possible. “Just beyond words. 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 (Knaus, crew chief) called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs,” said Johnson. “Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship.”
Coming into the race, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards were tied in points, with Johnson winning the title by finishing ahead of the other three.
Johnson joins Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt as NASCAR’s only seven-time Premier Series champions.
“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.”
And Johnson now has 80 career race victories and team owner Rick Hendrick won his record 12th owner championship.
But it was anything but easy. In fact, it was a struggle from before the race even began until the final restart.
Johnson had to start the race from the rear of the field after NASCAR found an issue with a front A-post in pre-race inspection on the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
By Lap 20, Johnson had passed two-thirds of the grid and was up to 13th. But three slow pit stops kept him from mounting a more serious challenge.
Still, Edwards was the clear class of the field among the four championship contenders for most of the race.
Logano passed Edwards for second place on a restart with less than 100 laps to go, and seemed headed for a title for a Team Penske until Edwards managed to retake second-place on Lap 204.
A caution for Ryan Blaney’s wall banger sent the field down pit road on Lap 209, Larson coming out ahead over Logano, Busch, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick, Edwards and Johnson.
But when the green flag came out on Lap 213, Busch blew past Logano to take over second place.
With the laps winding down, the pressure was on.
Edwards passed Logano for third on Lap 231, and set off after Busch. Finally, on Lap 243, Edwards took over second, but Busch stayed right with him initially.