HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson began the Sprint Cup Series season celebrating a victory at the Daytona 500, accidentally tearing up his car during a celebratory burnout.
He finished the season in celebratory mode again Sunday, completing the perfect bookends to a 36-race grind by winning his sixth championship at NASCAR’s highest level.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Johnson screamed over the radio after the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Denny Hamlin’s first victory of the season was overshadowed by Johnson’s amazing “Six Pack” — a title that leaves him one championship from tying Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for most Cup titles in the sport’s history.
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“There is nothing like this,” Johnson said in victory lane, choking back tears as he held one of his daughters, Genevieve, while looking at his wife, Chandra.
Johnson flung a six-pack of Gatorade in the air as members of his crew put on oversized hats shaped like championship rings.
Later, Johnson walked into the media center with a slice of pizza, which he kindly gave to team owner Rick Hendrick.
Such are the perks of a championship season.
Johnson’s “Six Pack” was not a surprise. He led Matt Kenseth by 28 points going into the Ford EcoBoost 400, and all Johnson had to do Sunday was avoid major trouble and finish 23rd or better in the No. 48 Chevrolet.
There was a slight moment of hesitation. Johnson made contact with Kenseth on Lap 194, causing damage to the left-front fender, but it wasn’t enough to derail Johnson, who delivered an 11th Cup title to Hendrick Motorsports.
Johnson finished ninth, ending the season 19 points ahead of Kenseth — who was runner-up to Hamlin.
Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., ended up ninth in the standings after finishing 24th in the race. Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw was 12th in points and 13th in the final race.
Johnson has won 24 of 98 races since the inception of the 10-race Chase playoff format in 2004. That winning percentage of 24.5 is almost double his victory rate during the regular season (12.5 percent — 42 victories in 335 starts).
“He can do things with a race car that most mortals can’t,” crew chief Chad Knaus said.
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