Jimmie Johnson handled the NASCAR Sprint Series' final race of the season at the Homestead-Miami track with all the poise and intelligence one would expect from a six-time series champion, and that is what he is now.
While Denny Hamlin captured the checkered flag on Sunday, Johnson is the big story here. After the race Johnson was in shock (via ESPN):
After finishing in ninth in the final race of the season, Johnson earned his sixth championship by 19 points over Matt Kenseth. This is Johnson's first championship since he won five straight from 2006 to 2010. He now trails both Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt by just one championship for the all-time record.
Kenseth entered the race second in the season standings and put together a fantastic afternoon. He spent a lot of the race in the lead and wound up finishing second.
He and Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled for the lead in the late laps, and that allowed Hamlin, Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, to chase them down and eventually pass them for the win.
Unfortunately for Kenseth, Johnson was not going to let anyone steal this championship from him.
Take a look at the finishing order for Miami followed by the final point standings for 2013:
|Homestead-Miami Finishing Order|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet|
|4||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota|
|18||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevrolet|
|22||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford|
|Final 2013 Sprint Cup Standings|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2363||-56|
Johnson entered the race with a 28-point lead over Kenseth and a 34-point lead over Kevin Harvick. They were the only three drivers with a mathematical chance at the title.
Johnson had a strong car on Sunday, but spent most of the day behind Kenseth. Without the ability to run in clean air up front, Johnson ran a smart race.
He mostly ran between fifth and 12th. He was careful to give himself distance from tight packs to help avoid a race-ending wreck and was able to keep himself in a solid position in the process.
While there was no "Big One" in this race, it was not lacking in tense drama. Paul Menard blew his tire on the track. As he was pulling into the pits, flames were slightly visible around the blown tire.
When he came to a stop, those flames erupted:
Luckily, no one was hurt.
Meanwhile, Johnson avoided disaster, but it was not all smooth sailing for No. 48:
That created for some anxious moments, as all eyes were on Johnson to see if he would continue to drop back. The Hendrick Motorsports team was not going to let that happen, though.
Johnson steadily worked his way back up, and his sixth championship drew closer by the lap:
Johnson finished off the race in steady fashion, and he now has the hardware to show for it.