HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 17, 2003) – Hendrick Motorsports ended the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season in style at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, with two drivers earning top-five finishes and three ending the year in the top 10 in championship points.
Jimmie Johnson closed out the 36-race schedule with his sixth consecutive top-three performance, coming in third at Homestead and locking down the second position in the Winston Cup driver standings.
“It was just a great year for the entire Lowe’s team,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. “I never in my wildest dreams expected to have six wins, The Winston, all the poles, and a fifth-place finish (in points) last year and a second-place finish this year.
“I’m just getting all I can every day, every lap, and so are Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and the entire team. We have a great relationship, great equipment, and great sponsors. You hear everybody saying that stuff, but it really is the truth. Our sport is about people.”
Johnson finished his sophomore season with three victories, 14 top-five finishes, 20 top-10s and two pole positions. He now has six career wins, not including his May triumph in NASCAR’s all-star event, The Winston, at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon finished fifth at Homestead and fourth in the final standings. Sunday’s result was his eighth top-10 finish in the final nine races.
“It certainly was an awesome finish for us,” Gordon said. “We had a bunch of top-fives, a couple wins in the last few races and I couldn’t be happier with the effort we put out today.
“I just have to thank everybody on this entire team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. They just put so much effort into us having competitive cars all year long and having a car to battle in the points all year long like we did.
“I also have to thank Winston for all their support over the years. I have had the pleasure to benefit from a lot of that support and I’m very thankful for what they do.”
Driving the No. 24 DuPont Chevy, Gordon posted three victories, 15 top-fives, 20 top-10 finishes and four poles this season.
One of the best feel-good stories of the year was scripted by Kellogg’s / got milk? Racing and driver Terry Labonte, who edged Kurt Busch by 12 points for a spot in NASCAR’s Top 10 on Sunday with a 15th-place finish.
Labonte had his best season since 1998, earning a victory at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, along with four top-fives and nine top-10s. He also picked up a pole after posting the fastest speed in time trials at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in May.
Winston Cup rookie Brian Vickers finished 34th after blowing a tire and making contact with Homestead’s outside retaining wall in Sunday’s race, but not before leading the event’s first 11 laps. The 20-year-old started third, passing pole-sitter Jamie McMurray and outside pole-winner Bobby Labonte at the outset to take the point in the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet.
Vickers, the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series champion who will compete for rookie-of-the-year honors at the Cup level next season, has earned four top-five starts in his four races with Team 25.
Bobby Labonte went to Victory Lane on Sunday, while Matt Kenseth was crowned the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion.