CONCORD, N.C. – Sunday, Jimmie Johnson made history.
At Homestead-Miami Speedway, he led the field to the checkered flag for his fifth victory of the season while also clinching the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS is now a seven-time Sprint Cup champion. The feat extends his lead among active drivers and ties him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most all-time.
"It's big," Johnson said of the accomplishment. "It has a different meaning. The No. 7 has a very special place in my heart with (Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick's late son) 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. Thank you so much!”
At 41 years old, Johnson is the youngest driver to win seven Cup championships. Petty was 42 when he earned his seventh title in 1979, and Earnhardt was 43 when he won his seventh championship in 1994.
The only driver in NASCAR history to win more than three consecutive championships, Johnson won five straight from 2006 to 2010. His sixth came in 2013, and with a seventh under his belt in 2016, Johnson also secured the shortest period of time between a driver’s first and seventh championship.
His seventh came just 10 seasons after his first, while Petty’s span was 15 seasons and Earnhardt’s was 14.
And he earned them all with one team – Hendrick Motorsports – one crew chief – Chad Knaus – and one sponsor – Lowe’s.
Lowe’s has been the No. 48 team’s primary sponsor since its inception in 2001. The home improvement retailer has been Johnson’s only primary sponsor for 15 full seasons, encompassing all seven Sprint Cup championships, 80 race victories and numerous milestones, including two wins in the Daytona 500 and four in the Brickyard 400. Hendrick Motorsports’ relationship with Lowe’s is one of the longest-running driver-team-sponsor partnerships in NASCAR history.
“My heart is so full," Johnson said. "I had this crazy calmness over myself all day long leading in to this. Chevrolet – it is the only car I have ever driven. Hendrick Motorsports -- it is home for me. It has been the perfect place. My family, friends as well. You wish you could say something really impactful in these moments but there is so much swirling going on right now in my head. I’m overly blessed and thankful.”
This season marked the first time in the new elimination format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup that Johnson had advanced to the Championship 4. He did so by winning the first race of both the Round of 12 and Round of 8 – at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, respectively.
Johnson’s 2016 Sprint Cup title is the 12th for Hendrick Motorsports and owner Rick Hendrick. Hendrick is the all-time leader in Sprint Cup owner championships and remains the only owner to win titles with three different drivers: Johnson (seven), Jeff Gordon (four) and Terry Labonte.
Additionally, it extended the organization’s record to 15 car owner championships across NASCAR’s three national series.
“It is unbelievable," the organization's owner Hendrick said. "Jimmie was using the No. 7 that Ricky (Hendrick) had and dedicating it to him. That was so special. To see him tie Richard (Petty) and Dale (Earnhardt), it is just unbelievable. I’m still in shock. I think it will sink in later tonight. But we are so proud of him. To do it through all these different formats is so special. What a great representative of the sport he is. This is beyond exciting. I’m so proud of him and the team. So proud, so proud.”