The 2013 NASCAR season is now complete.
Denny Hamlin locked up the win for the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway during the Ford EcoBoost 400. Hamlin led 72 laps, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his teammate Matt Kenseth for his first victory of what was a miserable year. However, that isn’t the main thing that happened in NASCAR on Sunday evening in Florida.
Jimmie Johnson, 37, has won his sixth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Johnson’s championships have each been won over the past eight seasons, including the outstanding streak of five consecutive titles from 2006-2010. He’s now just one championship away from tying the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, who have seven titles each.
Though Johnson had plenty of ups and downs throughout the year, his team was able to come back on several occasions, showing that they never give up.
At Pocono, Johnson hit the wall hard, damaging the entire right side, but came back to finish inside of the top-15. Right before the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup began, Johnson hit an extremely difficult rough patch. He finished 28th or worse for a whole month, but was able to hold the regular season championship lead even with the difficulties.
Johnson’s success in NASCAR’s edition of the playoffs set a new precedent for the entire sport. His team has become a true dynasty. In just 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons, all of which have been with Chad Knaus as his crew chief, Johnson has never finished worse than sixth in points. Many people had written off Johnson’s team entering Chicago to begin the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but Johnson proved people wrong in a big way.
Throughout the final 10 races, Johnson finished no worse than 13th (Talladega), and had seven top-five finishes and nine top-10s. This astonishing feat will surely be in the record books.
This championship was the first one that Johnson has been able win while holding his daughter in his arms, something that made him quite emotional. Johnson also mentioned that his grandmother passed away a month ago, giving him an even greater reason to fight for the championship, even with a heavy heart.
During the 2013 season, Johnson led 1985 laps, including leading over 100 laps in eight races (four in the Chase). Ever since winning the Daytona 500 in February, Johnson has shown that his No. 48 Chevrolet team is the strongest organization in NASCAR.
Showing that his team does have weaknesses over the past two years has led Johnson back to holding the championship trophy. His sixth championship came down to the wire. Even though he entered Homestead with a cushion over Kenseth and Kevin Harvick, he had to make sure to take care of his equipment. The team brought the same race car that he used at Texas, Charlotte and two other tracks to Homestead in order to make sure they had the best chance to seal the deal.
Johnson’s title is the 11th championship for Hendrick Motorsports. He joined Hendrick’s team at the end of 2001 after struggling as a driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. However, Johnson proved he was worthwhile thanks to a man by the name of Jeff Gordon.
Now, as Johnson celebrates his sixth title in 12 years, the sport says goodbye to several drivers that have helped turn the sport into what it has become today. Mark Martin, Ken Schrader, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton and Dave Blaney are all retiring, whether moving to another form of racing or just race on a part-time basis going forward.
Johnson having a close call on a restart with Kenseth caught the attention of his pit crew. Johnson had a slight tire rub, slipping back to 21st, but was able to rebound to finish ninth. It is just another one of the many examples of how strong the No. 48 team has been throughout the year.
Once again, Johnson’s team will be on the stage as the champions when the series goes to Las Vegas for the championship ceremonies. It’s been a long year, but Johnson will look to continue his success in 2014.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.