Jimmie Johnson won the EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, earning his 80th career Cup victory.
More importantly, Johnson won his seventh NASCAR championship to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most titles in the sport.
“I don’t know what to say,” Johnson said. “Oh my god, I did it.”
“Jimmie Johnson, I am so proud of you,” crew chief Chad Knaus replied.
Kyle Larson, who led 132 laps, finished second followed by polesitter Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray. Chasers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards finished sixth and 34th, respectively.
Johnson bested Logano by three points in the final Chase standings. Hendrick Motorsports extended its championship record to 12, dating back to Jeff Gordon in 1995.
“It was eventful to say the least,” Logano said. “I hate being that close to a championship and not getting it. The team did a great job all day. We had a good race car and we put ourselves in position to win. No one made any mistakes or anything like that on our pit crew.
"That last restart, I was hoping to get Jimmie there and trying to get either to the inside or outside of him. I just timed it a little bit wrong to get underneath him. I just didn’t have enough time to get under him. We lost some time there and unfortunately we finish second. The championship means so much and everyone forgets about second place. That is what stinks. But overall I am proud of this team. This will be motivation for next year. This hurts.”
Early issues for Johnson
Issues started early for Johnson in his quest for a seventh championship. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy had to start the race from the rear of the field after NASCAR officials discovered unapproved modifications to the car following pre-race inspection. Johnson advanced through half the field in eight laps.
He was running 12th, when Ryan Blaney plowed into the wall to bring out the first caution on Lap 27. After pit stops, Johnson restarted ninth on Lap 31. Fifteen circuits later, Johnson raced into the top five for the first time in the race. But on Lap 69, under green flag pit stops, Johnson’s jackman slipped on fallen lug nuts and the No. 48 Chevy cycled out to sixth.
Kyle Busch was the next Chaser with an issue. Larson was leading at half-way followed by Edwards, Harvick, Logano and Busch. Two laps later, Busch reported a right front was going down on the No. 18 Toyota and came down pit road on Lap 136. After changing tires, the team determined the tire was fine, but Busch dropped to 21st, one circuit off the lead lap.
When drivers came in for green flag pit stops, Busch remained on the track. By Lap 155, the No. 18 cycled up into the top 5 and was a factor the rest of the night.
On the fourth caution, Larson retained the lead out of the pits followed by Logano, Harvick, Busch, Johnson and Edwards. Edwards radioed the car was ok, he was just tight on the restart. Then the No. 19 started moving forward. He passed the No. 22 Ford on Lap 232. Edwards was side-by-side with Busch at the line on Lap 242, then moved to the inside exiting Turn 2. Edwards completed the pass down the backstretch.
Larson was good on fuel to race to the finish, but Dylan Lupton’s crash in Turn 2 on Lap 252, triggered the fifth caution.
The Chasers followed Larson down pit road with Edwards second, Busch third, Logano fourth and Johnson sixth behind Harvick. Edwards maintained second off pit road behind Larson. Logano was third with Harvick and Johnson rounding out the top five. Busch dropped to sixth after his rear tire changer Jake Seminara slipped twice in the 18 pits.
When all hell broke loose
Larson led the field to green with 10 laps remaining. Then all hell broke loose. Edwards had the inside lane, but Logano, who has been masterful on restarts this season, came down low. Edwards, who had led 47 laps, pulled down on the apron to put the block on the No. 22 and a nine-car melee ensued.
The No. 19 Toyota slammed into the pit road wall, bounced to the outside wall. Keselowski shot into the outside wall in Turn 1 ahead of him as Martin Truex Jr.’s car burst into flames.
“I’m alright,” Edwards said. “I thought I gave him enough room. It’s all me.”
Edwards climbed from his car, walked nine stalls to the No. 22 pit box, went up the stairs and shook Todd Gordon’s hand.
“We have damage on the right front and probably the right rear,” Logano said during the 39:09 red-flag delay. “He came down right in front of me.”
The final shootout
Larson had the lead followed by Harvick, Busch and Johnson with five laps to go. Logano pitted before restarted ninth. But with fresh tires, Logano wheeled the No. 22 Ford to third behind Johnson as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked behind the field to ignite the seventh caution and send the race into over-time.
Larson had the lead, but Johnson took the point entering Turn 1. He held the position to the white flag and led Larson to the checkered flag by 0.467-second.
“I feel like I got one stolen from me but congratulations to the 48 team,” Larson said.
Matt Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin and Michael McDowell rounded out the top 10. Chase Elliott, who won rookie honors, finished 11th with three-time champion Tony Stewart finished 22nd in his final Sprint Cup start.
"Just didn't think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game,” Johnson said after collecting the title.
"Chad (crew chief Knaus) called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs. Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship. I wouldn't be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance. From my dirt days - my parents first and foremost. My brothers. My wife and family today. Car owners, sponsors, Chevrolet, Lowe's, so many amazing people along the way that believed in me to give me this chance. Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick, all the men and women at Hendrick Motorsports for working so hard to get these cars fast and giving me an awesome 15 years with the company.
"Just thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you. So thrilled to be in this moment., So grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words."