Team: #48 (Hendrick Motorsports)
Top 5s: 11
Top 10s: 16
Best finish: 1st (Atlanta, Auto Club, Charlotte, Martinsville, Homestead)
Points finish: 1st
Jimmie Johnson’s 2016 before the playoffs began was a mixed year. Two wins very early on at the second race at Atlanta and the fifth race at Auto Club Speedway secured the #48 driver a spot in the chase, but after that mistakes kept creeping in. Uncharacteristic mistakes by Johnson on track and his crew on
Uncharacteristic mistakes by Johnson on track and his crew on pit road would lead Johnson into twenty-four race winless streak, one of the longest of his career. However, once the chase began in September the #48 team were revitalised.
After making it through the first round in a relatively comfortable fashion, Johnson won the first race of the round of 12 at Charlotte to snap his winless streak. He’d follow that up with a win in the round of 8 at Martinsville to secure a spot in the championship 4 and the title-deciding race at Homestead.
It was at Homestead’s finale that Johnson drove one of the races of his life. Coming from the back of the field after a penalty to be racing at the front on the final restart, Johnson would get a demon getaway to take the lead with two laps to go. He’d hold onto the lead and subsequently take his seventh Sprint Cup championship.
Winning a record-equalling seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. The final race at Homestead-Miami was probably one of the best races Jimmie Johnson has driven. After qualifying outside the top ten, Johnson knew he had some work to do. However, NASCAR officials were not happy with his #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after pre-race technical inspection, so they penalised Johnson by moving him to the rear of the forty-car field.
The green flag dropped and Johnson began his charge. He eventually worked his way up back into the fight with the other contenders, but he still didn’t look like he had the car underneath him to pass them. This would change in the final few laps though.
Carl Edwards, arguably the fastest contender on the night, would be eliminated in his restart crash with Joey Logano. Logano would have to pit to repair damage, with Kyle Busch following shortly there-after for new tyres. Johnson elected to stay out, meaning he was now on the front-row with two restarts to go.
On the first restart, Logano’s fresh tyres enabled him to blitz past several cars to get within touching distance of Johnson before the caution flag flew again. On the second restart, Logano didn’t get going, with Johnson getting the restart of his life to move past race-leader Kyle Larson with just two laps to go.
He’d hold on for the final lap of the race to take the win and a record-equalling Seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship; putting him level with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. An overwhelmed Johnson could only give one response:
“I don’t even know what to say.”
The mid-season woes. A mixture of pit-road speeding penalties, technical problems and sometimes even driving errors would put a dampener on Johnson’s mid-season. Things really started to get difficult for the #48 team as they rounded out the regular season, with the issues potentially having an impact on their championship if they had carried on into the playoffs.
In fact, initially, it looked as though they had carried over into the chase. In the first race of the playoffs at Chicagoland, Johnson threw away a very strong chance to win after leading the most laps. He was caught speeding as he exited pit-road on lap 234 of 270, with Johnson screaming down the radio in frustration as he hadn’t thought he was speeding.
Nevertheless, Johnson would rally back to take a 12th place finish despite his penalty and he’d follow the race up with top two 10 finishes that would put him through to the next round. However, at the time it felt like a massive issue; and it was. If they didn’t get their act together, fast, then they could’ve been eliminated.
“It’s not as bad as I expected, but I’ve got to stop screwing up,” Johnson said post-race. “I didn’t think I screwed up. I mean, I was completely shocked that I was fast. I’m way under, just being cautious and still got dinged leaving that last segment. I couldn’t believe it. Just mind-boggling.”
A seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship is going to give Jimmie Johnson a bucket-load of confidence heading into 2017. Hendrick Motorsports look to be heading on the up in the performance department at the moment, meaning that they could and should be in contention once again next year.
Johnson stated after the race at Homestead that he felt honoured to be mentioned in the same sentance as Earnhardt and Petty, the drivers he is now equal with on championships. When the season starts next year, you’ve got to believe that his desire will have shifted to take a record eigth championship; and who’s going to stop him?
That’s it for Overtake Motorsport’s 16 Chasers in 16 Days series. Thank you for looking back on the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with myself and Justin. It’s just under eighty days until we’re back in action for the 2017 Daytona 500 in February. We can’t wait to get back on track!
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com: http://www.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/11/20/main/Jimmie-moment.jpg/_jcr_content/renditions/original