HOMESTEAD, Fla. – To win a seventh championship, Jimmie Johnson knew he would have to finish ahead of his fellow Championship 4 contenders.
And in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the excitement-filled final 15 laps proved to play in Johnson’s favor.
Johnson drove the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS to Victory Lane, winning his fifth race of the season and his record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the process.
"Just beyond words," Johnson said following the race in Victory Lane. "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. (No. 48 team crew chief) Chad (Knaus) 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."
The championship tied him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty atop the record books.
"I wouldn't be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance," the champion said, "from my dirt days - my parents first and foremost, my brothers, my wife and family today. Car owners, sponsors, Chevrolet, Lowe's, so many amazing people along the way that believed in me to give me this chance. Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick, all the men and women at Hendrick Motorsports for working so hard to get these cars fast and giving me an awesome 15 years with the company. Just thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. So thrilled to be in this moment and so grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”
Johnson’s teammate Chase Elliott capped off his rookie season by taking home the Rookie of the Year award.
Going two laps down during the race, Alex Bowman rebounded for a top-16 finish while a late-race incident ended Kasey Kahne’s night early.
For more on how the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, read below.
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 GREAT CLIPS CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: The driver of the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS went on the move as soon as the green flag waved in the season finale. Kahne was running just outside the top 20 when the first caution of the race was brought out and gained position on pit road, restarting 14th on Lap 31. Kahne maintained his running position throughout the middle stage of the race before falling back outside the top 20 with 75 laps remaining. Following the fourth caution of the race, Kahne restarted just inside the top 20 in 19th and was running 17th when an incident with 10 laps remaining ended Kahne’s night. He brought home a 37th-place finish.
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Elliott started off strong from his fifth-place starting position, maintaining a solid top-five spot. Despite a Chevrolet SS that was a bit snug, the rookie was running lap times very similar as the leader. Following a Lap 26 caution, Elliott balanced on the cusp of the top 10 for about the next 60 laps before rejoining the top-10 just after the 100-lap mark. Choosing to run the bottom line with a Chevrolet SS that felt “better” than at the beginning of the race, Elliott once again began his climb through the field, moving into the seventh position before a Lap 171 caution was brought out for debris. Elliott maintained a top-10 position through two more restarts before a red flag was thrown with 10 laps to go. Elliott’s No. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet SS received minor damage, which Elliott’s team repaired on pit road once the red turned to a caution. Restarting in 15th during overtime, Elliott pushed forward for an 11th-place finish, also taking home the 2016 Rookie of the Year title.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Due to unapproved body modifications, Johnson was required to take the green flag from the back of the field in the season finale. However, the penalty did not phase Johnson, as he went on the move as soon as the green flag dropped. The championship contender was up to 25th by Lap 5 and broke inside the top 15 just 10 laps later. He was up to 11th when the first caution was brought out on Lap 26. After restarting in 10th, Johnson drove up inside the top-five on Lap 48, passing 34 cars in the first 41 laps. The excitement continued to grow as all four Championship 4 cars ran inside the top five. Following a slower pit stop during his green-flag pit stop after the 100-lap mark, Johnson cycled back to 10th before briefly going a lap down, along with the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. The third caution of the event was called on Lap 171 for debris, after which Johnson found the top 10 once again following adjustments made to his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS on pit road. Running sixth with 15 laps remaining, a caution was brought out and due to a speedy pit stop for four fresh tires, Johnson gained one position on the race off pit road and restarted fifth with 10 laps to go. The excitement spiked when a red flag was thrown on the restart and two of Johnson’s Championship 4 contenders were involved, giving Johnson the last-chance shot he needed to take home the championship. Johnson gained two positions on the restart before a caution was thrown, and restarted in second in NASCAR overtime. Jumping out to the lead when the green flag waved, Johnson drove his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS to Victory Lane, all while claiming his seventh career Cup championship.
ALEX BOWMAN, NO. 88 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS
STANDINGS: 18th (*owner’s points)
RECAP: After rolling off the grid in 19th, Bowman maintained position during the opening stages of the 268-lap race. The No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS made contact with a competitor on the entrance to pit road during a Lap 79 caution, which required a lengthy pit stop for repairs. The driver restarted one lap down in 34th. As the leaders cycled around, continuing to lap cars, Bowman ultimately went two laps down but regained three positions to restart 31st from a Lap 171 caution. Battling a car that was tight in the center and lacking drive off the corner, Bowman worked to maintain his position and gain laps back. The 23-year-old ultimately rebounded, claiming a 16th-place finish in the season finale.