Jimmie Johnson has won the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship after winning the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson has now tied Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven cup series championships to his name.
The title came down to one final restart in NASCAR Overtime following a series of late wrecks, with Johnson getting the restart of his life to take the lead and hold off the pack.
Johnson’s hopes to claim the championship were damaged several times, including right before the race began when he was forced to start from the back after pre-race inspection issues. He fought his way through the pack in the early stages, but his car looked to be the slowest of the championship four for the entire night.
It was Carl Edwards who looked to be in the best position to take the title with less than twenty laps to go, but a late-race caution necessitated a restart that gave fellow contender Joey Logano a chance to pass. Logano went all the way down low on the restart, with Edwards blocking hard. The pair made contact, forcing Edwards into the inside wall and then back across the track; collecting numerous cars in the process.
A red flag period would follow to clear the fluid left behind after the massive wreck. The field would restart twice more, with Johnson having to hold off a hard-charging Logano on new tyres. Joey had been getting unbelievable starts all night, but his final start got away from him as cars jostled for position around him.
Johnson, meanwhile, managed to not only keep Logano at bay, but he passed dominant race leader Kyle Larson on the inside to scamper away into the lead. He took the white flag and then came back around one more time to take a historic win. It was his first win at Homestead-Miami, sure, but much more importantly, it gave him his record-equalling seventh cup series title; meaning he is now tied at the top of the all-time championship winners along with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
“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,” said an ecstatic Jimmie Johnson after the race,“Chad [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.”
Perhaps the defining moment in tonight’s race was the huge wreck late in the race that took Carl Edwards out of contention for the championship. His forceful attempt to keep Logano from getting by would ultimately end his race and title hopes after several hard hits. Edwards’ car was lifted up into the air after being collected by Kasey Kahne, with Martin Truex Jr also having a hard hit that resulted in a massive fire.
Thankfully, all the drivers involved were unhurt. Edwards would comment after being released from the infield care centre that he knows he had to block Logano from passing and that he just forced the issue a little too hard. Carl’s #19 Arris Toyota Camry looked to be the car to beat up until that point, but like he did back in 2011, he’ll have to try and bounce back from this championship loss to give it another shot next year.
The wreck also put Joey Logano’s crew chief in a position to make one hell of a strategy call. With a ten lap shootout on the cards following the half-hour red flag, Todd Gordon elected to pit Logano to fix his fender damage and also to fit four Goodyear tyres. They gambled on the rest of the field following them to pit-road, and luckily for them they did.
On the first restart with ten to go, Logano charged through the cars ahead of him to get into third, right on the tail of Johnson, only for another caution to come out for the spinning Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He looked to be one great restart away from claiming a championship, but he got swamped by the cars around him and fell down to an eventual fourth place finish behind Kyle Larson in second and pole-sitter Kevin Harvick in third.
Ultimately, Kyle Busch was unable to defend his championship after a last-gasp gamble for new tyres didn’t work out. After witnessing the gains made by Logano on the penultimate restart, Adam Stevens decided to pit the #18 Camry to try and gain the same ground. It wasn’t to be, however, with the outgoing champion finishing in the sixth position behind Jamie McMurray in fifth.
Away from the championship four, several drivers had standout performances in tonight’s season finale. Kyle Larson was one lacklustre restart away from claiming his second Sprint Cup series victory after leading a race-high 132 laps. It’ll be a year to remember for Larson and the #42 crew after having won their first race back in Michigan and also having qualified for the chase as a result.
Likewise, AJ Allmendinger will be entering next year with confidence after a strong end to the season for the #47 team. He took yet another top ten finish in eighth ahead of Denny Hamlin and Michael McDowell; with the latter driver also taking a fantastic result after stepping into the #57 car for this weekend.
Further back, our two retiring drivers – Brian Scott and Tony Stewart – would take fifthteenth and twenty-second respectively. It was an unassuming final race for two-time champion Stewart, who was the subject oof several pre-race tributes. He will hand over his #14 Stewart-Haas ride to Clint Bowyer for 2017 as he focuses on the management side of his team.
So the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes to a head with a suitably dramatic finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In the end, history was made by Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet, who claimed his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.
It’s been a joy to cover the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for this season and I’m already counting down the days to the 2017 season-opening Daytona 500 in February. In the meantime, we’ll have several 2016 recaps and 2017 previews and announcements to come, right here at Overtake Motorsport. See you next season!
2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 race results:
|POS.||CAR #||DRIVER||MANUFACTURER||STARTING POS.||LAPS||LAPS LED|
|30||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||Ford||18||262||0|
|36||78||Martin Truex Jr||Toyota||6||257||0|
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com – http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/11/20/hero/jimmie-hero.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original