HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The Jimmie Johnson Story added another sequel to the franchise on Sunday with an unprecedented fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship.
But this version of the saga had a different twist than previous editions because Johnson had to do something he's never done before -- come from behind in the final race of the season.
Johnson came into Homestead 15 points behind Denny Hamlin, but when the checkered flag flew he was hoisting yet another Sprint Cup trophy, 39 up in the final standings.
It was a "never give up" performance that solidified Johnson's place as one of, if not the best, drivers in NASCAR history.
"I am just so proud to be in this position," Johnson said. "I think this year we showed what this team is made of.
"We may not have had the most speed, but we had the most heart."
Johnson's style of being cool, calm and collected was on full display during the closest championship battle in the seven-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup and it served him well in Sunday's pressure packed situation.
Those same attributes were unfortunately missing from Hamlin's effort, which seemed to jump the tracks last week in Phoenix when a fuel mileage miscalculation and subsequent 12th place finish erased much of Johnson's point deficit and suddenly made the No. 11 team look vulnerable.
A poor qualifying effort and more mistakes during Sunday's race added up to Hamlin falling short of his bold prediction that he would win this year's title and ultimately handed the crown back to Johnson.
"It's tough, trust me," said Hamlin, who won eight races on his way to what turned out to be a runner-up finish in the standings. "These years don't come by too often in anyone's career. I was privileged enough to be part of the closest championship in history and give it my best effort, but it wasn't enough today."
Hamlin can't take any solace in the fact that up until when it counted the most he was the most dominant driver in the series.
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"We came close, but close doesn't cut it," he said. "Those guys stepped up and performed at the end of the race like they needed to. Our car just had too many Band-Aids. There were so many Band-Aids on it to try to fix it. We just didn't have it there at the end."
But Johnson had more than enough to continue the story that has headlined NASCAR since 2006.
And if team owner Rick Hendrick has his way, look for another chapter of the series coming to a racetrack near you next season.
"I don't know if anybody will ever win five of these things in a row again, they'll be going for six next year, so here we go," Hendrick said.
• Roush Fenway Racing has positioned itself as the follow-up to this year's Richard Childress Racing turnaround story. Last year, RCR failed to put a driver in the Chase and this season three made the playoffs with Kevin Harvick in contention for the title until the season finale. While Roush had three drivers in this year's Chase, none mounted a serious charge to unseat Johnson but all showed signs next year might be a different story. Carl Edwards ending the year with back-to-back victories gives the Roush stable a major lift and its obvious whatever was missing since the end of the 2008 season has returned in full force.
• Attendance has been a major issue facing NASCAR in 2010 with several tracks and races falling short of expectations. Although Sunday's Homestead finale was not a sellout it was much better attended than last year's event. Ford's sponsorship of the championship weekend runs for two more years and the manufacturer has made it clear ending in South Florida is a business priority. The weekend weather was ideal and racing in all three-season finales at the progressively banked track was good. So for now Miami will remain the site of the season finale and if attendance continues to grow, NASCAR will most likely keep the last weekend of the year in Florida.
|'I think this year we showed what this team is made of ... we had the most heart,' Johnson says. (Getty Images)|
• The season began with the "Boys Have at It" mantra and it ended the exact same way on Sunday. Although it didn't play into the championship battle the hard racing and no holds barred mentality was on display in two main events. Joey Logano and Juan Pablo Montoya were involved in a pair of incidents, the second coming on pit road. Ironically both cars were parked next to each other in the garage and Montoya tried to make his way to discuss the contact with Logano but was intercepted by NASCAR officials. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch got together racing out of turn four with Busch winding up sliding into the inside wall in an accident that ended with a ball of fire engulfing his Camry. Not surprisingly the two fiery competitors had strong words for each other in their post-race media interviews but no physical blows were exchanged.
• So the question becomes will the behavior that clearly defined the 2010 season carry over to next year? Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said in the driver's meeting that "Boys Have at It" does have its limits. But NASCAR didn't indicate at any time this season that there was indeed a line to be crossed even in the wake of several blatant paybacks and retaliatory actions. Fans seemed to embrace the end result of NASCAR relaxing its grip on drivers and ate up the emotion that was generated. However there were others who were turned off by the WWE on wheels thrill show. When the annual preseason Media Tour rolls into Charlotte next January, it will be very interesting to what tone NASCAR sets for the 2011 season.
"No offense Jack [Roush], was like a sharp stick in the eye." -- Carl Edwards on his 70-race winless streak.
"I was not nervous at any point until about an hour before the race." -- Denny Hamlin
"Damn, that's how your teammates raced me all day." -- Denny Hamlin on Kevin Harvick's incident with JGR mate Kyle Busch.
"I just parked yours." -- Kevin Harvick
Carl Edwards -- If there was any doubt that Edwards or Roush Fenway Racing wasn't back after his win last week in Phoenix, Sunday's win should cement home the fact. Edwards will be a championship contender next season now that RFR has found whatever was missing earlier in the season.
Kasey Kahne -- His early move to Team Red Bull has paid big dividends for Kahne who, after winning the pole, turned in a solid sixth place finish on Sunday. He now goes into the offseason with a lot of confidence in his new team, which will bode well for a potential fast start in 2011.
Bill Elliott -- Let's give a shout out to "Awesome Bill," who qualified the legendary Wood Brothers Ford fourth and bounced back from some mid-race struggles to post a 15th place finish. That may not sound like much but for an underfunded team like the Wood Bros. operation it means the world.
Joey Logano -- Was on a streak of top ten finishes that came to a screeching halt after his pair of scuffles with Montoya. Will be interesting to see if the bitter taste in his mouth to end 2010 will still be there next season and if his feud with JPM continues.
Jeff Gordon -- For the first time since 2008, Gordon went through a winless Sprint Cup Series season. An engine failure ended the four-time champion's season with a 37th place finish and he tumbled down to end the year ninth in points, a long way from what looked like a possible return to championship glory early on.
Kyle Busch -- Started his Homestead weekend with victories in the truck series and Nationwide Series but thoughts of another trifecta went up in a ball of flames after his on track run-in with Harvick. That's another feud to watch closely in 2011.
The long and winding road of the 2010 season came to an end Sunday at Homestead but there won't be much down time as the new season begins in 90 days with the running of the Daytona 500.