Denny Hamlin crossed the finish line in first place at the Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but it was Jimmie Johnson who stole the show by winning his 6th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship in eight years, making him one of the most successful competitors in the history of the sport. Johnson only needed to finish above the 23rd spot to win the championship, and with his only challenge being brief contact with Matt Kenseth following a restart, which put him back in the field, Johnson finished the race in 9th place, beating Kenseth to the Championship title by 19 points.
Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth led for 144 laps of the 267 lap race, finishing the race a close second to teammate Denny Hamlin. Having suffered a fractured vertebra earlier this year, which kept him out of action for more than a month, Hamlin’s victory on Sunday was especially sweet. In a post-race interview, Hamlin noted that racing during the ‘Jimmie Johnson era’ was unfortunate for competitors as Johnson was, in his opinion, the best that there ever was.
Statistics reinforce this viewpoint as Johnson is the youngest driver to win six Sprint Cup Champion titles, beating Richard Petty by 83 days. His record of six titles in the space of eight years is a first in the sport, and his 66 Sprint Cup victories since 2002 put him 30 wins above any other driver in the last eleven years. His crew chief Chad Kraus has a record of 62 wins, all of which have been with Johnson.
Jeff Gordon can be credited for introducing Johnson to Hendrick Motorsports and the Sprint Cup series. He discovered Johnson racing in the Nationwide Series in 2001 and persuaded Rick Hendrick to hire him. Gordon was quoted as saying that as a team – Johnson, Kraus and Hendrick Motorsports – they are “unbelievable”. Many would agree!
The top five places in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship went to (in order) Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The recently repaved surface at Kansas Speedway received some sharp criticism following the wreck-filled Hollywood Casino 400, which was won from pole position by Kevin Harvick driving the #29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Kurt Busch took 2nd spot in Furniture Row Racing’s #78 Chevrolet; with Jeff Gordon in Hendrick Motorsports’ #24 Chevrolet; Joey Logano in Penske Racing’s #22 Ford; and Carl Edwards in Roush Fenway Racing’s #99 Ford, following in 3rd, 4th and 5th place respectively. Points leader Matt Kenseth finished the race in 11th place, which have Harvick the opportunity to gain ground on the top two drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Kenseth remains in the points lead, just three points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, with Harvick in 3rd place, followed by Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.
Driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, Danica Patrick wrecked the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet on the first lap of the race, saying in a post-race press release that if she did something wrong resulting in the wreck she apologizes to everybody on her team and to GoDaddy. Having crashed in practice, Kyle Busch started the race at the rear of the field, and narrowly missed a crash on Lap 1. But later in the race, after using pit strategy to make his way to the front, on lap 187 Busch made contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, resulting in Busch spinning out and Mark Martin crashing. Just thirteen laps later, Busch made contact with Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers, causing him to slam into the wall and sending him to the garage. Busch finished 34th in the race, after having started third in points. Busch was later quoted as saying that both the racetrack and the new tire are the worst he had ever driven on. Matt Kenseth referred to the track as being treacherous, noting that it had been a struggle all day and he felt as though he was about to crash ‘pretty much at all times in the race’.
The next race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In other NASCAR news, it has been announced that NASCAR will be keeping ESPN and TNT as its television partners through the 2014 season.