Most folks thought it was only a matter of time. After all, Jimmie Johnson had already won six NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships, including five in a row (2006-2010). But winning his 80th race and seventh Championship was not easy. A body modification not to NASCAR’s liking sent him to a last starting position so he had to work his way back up front to fight with the other three Chase contenders. The last race was a winner take all for the Chasers and Johnson only led the last three laps after a red flag wreck shut the track down. Johnson, who is the all-time leader in Chase wins with 29, scored his first career victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway to deliver Chevrolet’s 31st driver’s championship.
The normally reserved Johnson was more than elated in Victory Lane, “Oh my gosh, there is no, no way on earth.” He described his feelings as, “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. Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship. So thrilled to be in this moment, so grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.” A steady stream of fellow racers came to Victory Lane to congratulate Johnson and the team.
The amazing part of Johnson joining Petty and Earnhardt’s club is that he did it with the same team, car, sponsor and crew chief. The Hendrick #48 (co-owned by Jeff Gordon) has always been a Chevrolet adorned with Lowes colors and chiefed by Chad Knaus. This makes NASCAR Cup Championship number 12 and 15 overall for Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson pointed it out, “Chevrolet – it is the only car I have ever driven. Hendrick Motorsports – It is home for me. It has been the perfect place.”
When asked about the personal significance of number seven, Johnson said, “It’s big. It has a different meaning. The No. 7 has a very special place in my heart with Ricky Hendrick. As a lot of people know. For some reason, I just felt good and calm today and things just kind of unfolded at the end for us. I know it was help from above. In my heart I wanted to believe it would happen. It has and I just can’t believe it.”
The King, Richard Petty talked about Johnson tying his seven Championships, “Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at. 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.” The king went on to say, “Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport.”
The Championship wraps up Sprint’s turn as the title sponsor with a new, yet unnamed entity coming aboard next year to start a new era in NASCAR.