History at Homestead-Miami Speedway: “Drive for Five” Complete
Jimmie Johnson had prevailed as the series’ points Champion for an unprecedented fifth straight season (photo courtesy: Getty Images Sport)
On a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon, Homestead-Miami Speedway served as host to a one-race shootout to decide the closest Sprint Cup Championship Chase in NASCAR history. And when it was over, Jimmie Johnson had prevailed as the series’ points Champion for an unprecedented fifth straight season. Carl Edwards took the day’s checkered flag in the Ford 400.
Denny Hamlin entered Ford Championship Weekend with a 15-point lead over four-time reigning Champion Johnson and just a 46-point margin over Kevin Harvick. With the points so tight, the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship was close enough that one spin or poor pit stop could determine whether Johnson would stretch his unprecedented Championship streak to five, or if Hamlin or Harvick would put an end to one of the most dominating runs in sports history.
Unfortunately for Hamlin, that mistake came on Lap 25 as a result of slight contact with Greg Biffle’s Ford Fusion. The incident sent Hamlin to the rear of the field with damage to the front end of his car after having started in 38th-place. Johnson, meanwhile, would run the cleanest race of the three Championship contenders and finish second to race winner Edwards.
"I am just so proud to be in this position and so thankful to have my great race team,” said Johnson, who claimed the 2010 Sprint Cup crown by 39 points over Hamlin. “Yeah, I mean, gosh, I've always told you guys that the first Championship, first win, that stuff has meant the most to me This one, I think this takes the lead.”
"We had a great year, we won the most races that we ever won,” said Hamlin, who took eight checkered flags in 2010. “We contended like we've never contended before and just circumstances took us out of this one.”
Johnson entered Ford Championship Weekend in a different position than those of years past—that is to say, trailing in the points standings. To capture the Sprint Cup for a fifth consecutive season, the No. 48 would have to take an aggressive approach rather than a defensive stance aimed at simply protecting his lead. And in doing so, the Hendrick Motorsports legend captured the first come-from-behind Championship in the seven-year life of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship—all hosted by Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After taking the lead while leaving the pits on Lap 188 (of 267), Harvick was assessed a pit-road speeding penalty to drop him all the way back to 29th place.
"I don't think that penalty will ever settle in my stomach," said Harvick, who finished third in the race and third in the final 2010 Sprint Cup Series standings, 41 points back of Johnson. "Only a handful of people get to see the pit road speeds, so I won't ever settle for that."
On Lap 204, Johnson was shown to have the Championship points lead by just two points over Hamlin, and the crown was all-but decided on Lap 237 when Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick all pitted out of sequence from the field. In the end, the three NASCAR Championship contenders combined to lead the points standings after 35 of the season's 36 races.
While the focus of Sunday's Championship-finale Ford 400 was the battle for the Sprint Cup Championship, it was Edwards who drove his Ford Fusion to Victory Lane. The Ford Championship Weekend win was a second straight for the No. 99 after a 70-race winless streak.
“This is unreal….a great way to finish the season,” said Edwards. “Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson—five championships in a row, that’s unreal.”
“We have had the highs and lows of the Chase,” Johnson said. “But to have it all come around and to look every single one of my crew guys in the eyes on that stage tonight, there's a different feeling about it. It is so cool."
Homestead-Miami Speedway continues its rich history of sports car racing in 2011when the GRAND-AM Rolex Racing Sports Car Series returns to South Florida’s 2.3-mile road course. The Grand Prix of Miami is set for March 4-5, and will feature the Daytona Prototypes and Grand Touring classes in Race 2 of the 2011 GRAND-AM campaign. For information on more than 280 events held each year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, visit THEChampionshipTrack.com.