HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Back on top with only two NASCAR greats left to catch, Jimmie Johnson won his sixth championship in eight years Sunday and staked his claim as one of the most dominant competitors in sports history.
Johnson, needing only to finish 23rd or better to spoil Matt Kenseth’s career season, was on cruise control most of the day at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson’s lone hiccup came when traffic stacked-up on a restart and he and Kenseth made slight contact, causing Johnson to plunge 15 spots in the field with damage to his fender.
He rallied to finish ninth and beat Kenseth for the title by 19 points. Now looming large in Johnson’s windshield is the mark of seven titles held by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. Johnson barely got to finish his celebratory burnouts before the debate began: Where does “Six-Pack” rank among the greats in NASCAR?
“I have six, and we’ll see if I can get seven,” Johnson said. “Time will tell. I think we need to save the argument until I hang up the helmet, then it’s worth the argument. Let’s wait until I hang up the helmet until we really start thinking about this.”
Kenseth, needing a Johnson collapse to have any shot at the title, positioned himself to pounce should anything go awry. Kenseth led 144 laps and finished second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
“It was just unbelievable year for us. Obviously, we wanted to win the championship as good as we ran all year,” said Kenseth, winner of seven races in his first season with JGR.
Johnson won a record five straight titles from 2006 through 2010, was mathematically eliminated before the 2011 finale, but was back in the title hunt last season. Only he had a tire failure in the penultimate race at Phoenix and then a mechanical failure in the finale to lose the championship to Brad Keselowski.
End of an era
Roger Penske and Sam Hornish Jr. have been together for nearly 300 races over the last decade but now they have parted. Hornish drove his final race for Penske on Saturday, a 12th-place finish in the Nationwide Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hornish came up three spots shy of going out with a championship.
He ended up second to Austin Dillon in the final standings. Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch won the race. Hornish was near the front for much of the 200 laps, but faltered down the stretch on worn tires.
He moved to NASCAR full time in 2008, but has mostly struggled.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel set a Formula One single-season record with his eighth consecutive victory, winning the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, with yet another dominating drive.
Vettel charges into next weekend’s season finale in Brazil with a chance to tie Michael Schumacher’s Formula One record of 13 victories in a single season.