At 25 laps to go in the Ford EcoBoost 400, it looked like Jimmie Johnson was not going to win his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. That all changed on lap 258 of 267 when contenders Carl Edwards and Joey Logano were involved in a wreck on the ensuing restart.
Johnson had never won at Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, after having to start at the rear of the field due to issues in pre-race inspection, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet led the final three laps to capture the race victory and the trophy.
"Oh my gosh, there is no, no way on earth. Just beyond words,” an elated Johnson said in the Team Chevy post-race release. “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. Chad 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. So thrilled to be in this moment and so grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”
Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus, whom have been together for all seven championship runs, also made history by tying the record set by both Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
"Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at,” Petty said in a special Richard Petty Motorsposrts press release. “Jimmie and his team have done that tonight. They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality. They did what they needed to do and now they are at seven championships. Congratulations to him and his team. Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport."
“I’m pretty speechless right now,” Knaus said, also in the Team Chevy release. “It has been an awesome, awesome journey but it has been a very trying season. We’ve had a lot of good things. We have had some difficulties along the way. But to be able to be where we are at today with Lowe’s, one team, one driver, one crew chief, one sponsor…to be able to win all seven championships is just awesome. The guys and gals at HMS have buckled down and worked so hard to be able to give us the race cars we needed to have to be able to compete. It definitely showed. We got three wins in the second half of the season is pretty phenomenal.”
The final few laps turned out to be a shootout between Johnson and the No. 42 Target Chevrolet of Kyle Larson, who finished second. He led the most laps of the afternoon at 132. ““Congrats to Jimmie (Johnson) congrats to Chevy for winning the championship, that’s pretty cool and that Jimmie could win seven there,” Larson said, also in the Chevy release. “We had the car to win there and I know that I did everything in my power to win the race.”
Pole-sitter and 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick led 79 laps and ultimately finished third piloting the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet. As it turned out, a Chevy took home five of the top 10 spots. Jamie McMurray (fifth), AJ Allmendinger (eighth), and Michael McDowell (10th) all contributed to the 'bowtie' brigade's placings.
Brian Scott finished 15th in what will be his final NASCAR start. “We actually had a car that was capable of competing,” he said, also in a RPM post-race team release. “That kept us in the race and kept us able to hang on when we took the wave around to get back on the lead lap. I thought we were gonna have a shot for a top 10, but it just didn’t play into our favor with not having a car that was very good on restarts the first couple of laps. I’m proud of my guys though for fighting all year. Even through the struggles it’s been a fun year.”
The driver of the No. 44 Safeway Ford announced he would be retiring in order to spend more time with family. “I’m excited. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m excited to find out.”
Today also marked Tony Stewart’s final ride of his long-time NASCAR career, one he made a total of 618 starts in. Before the field settled to take the green flag, the driver of the No. 14 Always A Racer, Mobil 1 Chevrolet was honored on pit road and then went on to make a special victory lap around the 1.5-mile South Florida speedway.
“It was funny because I almost told my guys I almost went a lap down before the race started,” Stewart told NBC Sports during post-race coverage when he came to congratulate Johnson. “The sendoff that those guys gave me truly meant the world to me. That’s got to be the highlight of my day, that one moment, and this moment with this guy (Johnson).
The final race of the 2016 NASCAR season took three hours, seven minutes and ten seconds to run. There were a total of seven cautions and one red flag that lasted just over the 30-minute mark.
Results - Ford EcoBoost 400
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Kyle Larson
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Joey Logano
5. Jamie McMurray
6. Kyle Busch
7. Matt Kenseth
8. AJ Allmendinger
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Michael McDowell