Jimmie Johnson Wins Fifth Title the Way the Fans Wanted...the Hard Way
When the checkered flag fell at Homestead, emotions could be seen the length of pit road. There were tears of joy for some, and heartache for others.
One team stepped away happy to be in the position to win, while another knew the opportunity had slipped way.
However, it was one man who had the most reason to be exuberant.
Jimmie Johnson entered Sunday's action in a position he was not used to. He was second in the points—something he had not experienced coming to Homestead the previous four years. Despite the small point difference to Denny Hamlin, Johnson was not thinking he was the one in the driver's seat in the Chase.
Going in, Johnson was looking at his race as though he was behind. Maybe that's what drove him to wanting to earn the title that much more.
Everyone in attendance knew it would come down to mistakes that decided who would win the championship, not just who finished highest. Consider this, first Hamlin had his on-track incident with Greg Biffle, but then Johnson had his own troubles. His pit crew, which was originally teammate Jeff Gordon's pit crew, had some flaws on some pit stops.
As the race got down to the wire, it was clear that whomever finished the highest was going to be the champion. When Kevin Harvick got caught speeding on pit road, it set the course for the way the title was going to be won.
Is this championship for Johnson different than his previous four?
Then, after Hamlin was caught a lap down and had to take the wave-around, at that point it was in the bag.
Just as predicted before the green flag was ever waved, the championship came down to the final laps of the race. Johnson himself didn't even know he had won the title until he came across the start/finish line and Chad Knaus told him on the radio.
Johnson did not have the Chase he did in years past. His only win in the final 10 races came at Dover, and for a majority of the Chase, he was not the best-performing car.
The race at Texas really set forth one of the most unpredictable endings to the Chase since it's inception in 2004.
A pit crew swap in the middle of the race was the most talked about move probably ever seen by the No. 48 team in all their championship years. It also showed that Knaus, Johnson and the rest of Hendrick Motorsports knew they were behind and needed to do something to get a spark going.
Phoenix was their opportunity to close in, and by saving fuel they cut Hamlin's point lead in half. They were able to put the pressure on and became the aggressor of the three contenders.
Homestead was the race where Johnson had to silence all the critics.
Thoughts of people saying, "He's never had to race for it" or "He just cruises at the finale" were far from his and his team's mind. For Johnson, it was his chance to race for a title, something he never did the previous four years.
Sunday, Johnson wasn't "Superman" and Hamlin was becoming his kryptonite. But, as if an inner strength came to light, Johnson pulled through and took the title.
Sure, there are going to be folks that will consider that the penalty to Harvick is the reason Johnson won the title. In reality, though, Johnson had to race his heart and soul out to get his fifth title. It was the toughest championship victory in all the years Johnson has won, and not one person can deny that.
At the end of the day and as we enter another off season with No. 48 as the champion, there were some people that jeered at Johnson. But looking back, there were many more folks that were cheering for him and appreciating Johnson's accomplishments.
Johnson earned this title and that is a well-deserved honor.
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