And so it ends. At approximately 6:30 last night, the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season came to a close. It started in mid-February with a rain-shortened Daytona 500 and came to an end under balmy overcast skies in Miami.
It was an unbelievable race to end the season. So much jockeying for position and such incredible action all around the track. Certainly was a fun race to conclude the season.
Now, in this edition of "Parks Race Reactions," I'll look back at the drivers who had a big day in the final race plus a view of an incredible feat in the sport's history.
Let's start out by looking at the race. What an awesome run by Denny Hamlin. He certainly was the hard-luck driver of the Chase. He had three DNF's in the Chase, which really put him at the back of the standings. But, in the races he didn't have trouble, he ran extremely well.
Sunday night, he put his FedEx Camry in victory lane, ending the year on a very high note. It was his fourth win of the season, the most in his career. Afterwards, Hamlin made a bold prediction as he stood in victory lane.
"I promise you, in the next couple years, we're going to win the championship," Hamlin proclaimed.
It's uncertain if that will happen, but the team is capable of getting in done. We will not know until the 2010 season begins.
Also, how about the RCR organization ending the season on a high note. Three of their cars ran up front all night long, with two of them finishing in the top five.
Runner-up Jeff Burton nearly pulled off a victory but he was unable to run down Hamlin in the late going. Kevin Harvick finished behind his teammate, and ran extremely well all afternoon and evening.
If this is any indication that this organization has rebounded, then 2010 looks to be a very good season for Richard Childress Racing.
Now, on to the points standings. Before I get to the champion himself, the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization made history Sunday night. His teams finished an improbable trifecta of finishing one-two-three in the standings. It is hard enough to get one team to finish in the top five of the points, let alone three, so big congrats to Rick Hendrick.
Unfortunately, the boss himself was not at the track to celebrate. Hendrick got news that his niece, Ashley Gainey, needed an emergency liver transplant, so he left the morning of the race.
So, the celebration was a bit somber, but it was nonetheless an incredible accomplishment.
It's also been an incredible accomplishment for runner-up Mark Martin. It was uncertain how Martin would do in his first full season since 2006, especially in a high profile ride like the No. 5 car.
However, not only did he run well, he nearly took the championship in his first season. His run over the year has been nothing short of amazing. His win at Phoenix showed that even at his age, he can get the job done.
He proved that wasn't a fluke weeks later in winning the Southern 500. Then came his win at Michigan, and then domination at Chicago. Those wins put him in the points lead heading into the Chase, and he started the final 10 races by winning at New Hampshire.
The entire season he was saying that all he's doing is having fun. You could tell that when he gets out of the car with a huge smile on his face.
After the race, Martin reflected on the opportunity that Hendrick gave him.
"To come in my first year and compete for a championship, it speaks volumes for this team. I feel really really blessed to have a chance," Martin said.
At the same time, he admitted it was an emotional ride for him because of all the support he's received.
"The fans and the competitors really made it emotional for me," Martin said.
It certainly was an emotional season for Martin and the entire No. 5 team, but this is an indication of what the 2010 season will bring. Martin will again battle for the championship, and everyone in the garage will be looking for another strong run by Martin.
But, what can you say that about the No. 48 Lowe's team, Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. This team has done something that no one has come close to accomplishing in NASCAR.
In the eight years that this team has been on the track, they have four championships, a runner-up and have finished no lower than fifth. That is unheard of in this sport.
Johnson has opened up his own wing in the sport's history. Four consecutive championships are something that no one would have ever thought would happen.
"I never thought in my career, in my lifetime, I'd see someone win four in a row," Johnson's teammate Jeff Gordon said. "To see it happening right in front of your eyes makes it even more extraordinary."
Runner-up in the race, Jeff Burton, agreed, saying "If you would've told me four years ago that someone would win four championships in a row, I would've told you you were crazy."
Crazy or not, it happened. Johnson has put himself beyond the elite group of champions. He is in his own realm of history, one that will never again be matched.
Even Johnson himself could not believe what he and his team had done.
"The truth is, to do something that's never been done in this sport--to love this sport like I do, and respect it like I do--and the greats: Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon...to do something that they've never done is so awesome," Johnson said to ESPN's Alan Bestwick.
"To win four championships in eight years, what this team has done...I don't know where to start. It's unbelievable."
Believe it, it is a reality, Johnson is the driver to beat. The only question is how far he can go. Can he win five straight? Six straight? Seven? Eight?
It's unclear how many, but until teams figure out how to beat them in the Chase, get used to seeing Johnson win more titles. He is the champ, and he truly is "Superman."
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