Johnson wins second straight NASCAR title
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson left the pre-race drivers' meeting Sunday afternoon flashing the peace sign. Two fingers. Two straight championships. This Sunday drive was going to be a coronation, and Johnson knew it. Johnson become the first ...
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson left the pre-race drivers' meeting Sunday afternoon flashing the peace sign.
Two fingers. Two straight championships.
This Sunday drive was going to be a coronation, and Johnson knew it.
Johnson become the first driver to win consecutive championships since Jeff Gordon in 1997 and '98.
Johnson wrapped up the title by finishing a trouble-free seventh in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He came into the event with a cushy 86-point lead over Gordon, his friend, mentor and teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. Although Johnson only needed to finish 18th or better, he refused to play it safe and crew chief Chad Knaus gave him a pole-winning car.
Johnson led the first lap to earn a quick five-point bonus, then settled in for the 400-mile ride into the record books. At a time when no single team is supposed to dominate, the No. 48 crew did just that in leading Johnson to 10 victories and a stout 4.7 average finish during the Chase for the championship.
It put it out of reach for Gordon, who was hoping to add a fifth Cup title to his dream season. He became a father in June, won six races and his fourth-place finish on Sunday was his NASCAR-record 30th top-10 finish of the year.
But it wasn't enough against Johnson, his hand-picked teammate who wound up surpassing him as the sport's dominant driver. Johnson became the first driver since Gordon to win double-digit races, four in a row and the consecutive titles.
And unlike last year, when he fretted over the outcome, the California kid had a "no worries" attitude during the entire Chase. He packed a quick trip to Mexico into his schedule two weeks ago, spent time hanging out in New York City and even made plans for his championship party a week in advance.
The attitude was infectious for the entire team.
Before the Super Bowl in South Florida nine months ago, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said he slept for 12 hours the night before the game -- and knew that was a good sign.
Same thing here. This was Johnson's Super Bowl, and his team couldn't have been more relaxed.
Knaus -- the sort of guy who frets over every minute detail -- went to bed at 9 p.m. Saturday, awoke at 8 a.m. and couldn't have been calmer when he got to the track a couple hours later.
"I've got the best team and the best driver," Knaus said.
Who can argue? Certainly not NASCAR.
"He is having a run that in the modern era is maybe unmatched," NASCAR chairman Brian France said before the race.
"He is just at a different level and I think it's hats off to him."
The sport has come a long way from the days when Richard Petty won 27 races in a season, and too many teams are competitive for any one driver to dominate. But Hendrick Motorports did it, with its four drivers winning 18 of the 36 races and Johnson taking the lion's share while giving owner Rick Hendrick his seventh Cup championship.
It came in a season when NASCAR phased in its Car of Tomorrow, a safer, cost-efficient car that was also designed to improve the racing. But teams had to flop back and forth between the current car and the CoT, and mastering both programs was a chore.
Sunday's finale was the last race for the current car, as a new era begins next season when NASCAR will use the CoT exclusively. The series name is also changing, from Nextel Cup to Sprint Cup.
And the dynamic at Hendrick also will be different, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- NASCAR's most popular driver -- set to replace the temperamental Kyle Busch on the four-car team. The addition will give Hendrick another championship-caliber driver and a colorful personality on a team often criticized for being a bit bland.
It's stretched to Johnson, who despite his success isn't embraced by a fan base that views him as a little too polished and a lot too nice. But he proved he's not perfect last December, falling from the top of a golf cart and breaking his wrist in the process. Embarrassed by the incident and afraid of what it would do to his image, he initially lied about how it happened and was angry when the truth came out.
When it didn't harm him, Johnson realized he doesn't always have to be the consummate corporate poster boy and can show his wild side. He did just that when he crossed the finish line Sunday, immediately radioing to his crew to get ready for the party.