title contenders almost the entire distance, moving
to the front for the first time with three laps to go.
Then, despite being on older tires than many just
behind him, Johnson got the restart of his life for
the green-white-checkered finish and it allowed him
to hold the field at bay for the final two laps.
“When I was coming to the checkered flag I had
to really look closely at it going by to make sure it
was [the final lap]. Like, is this really happening?”
Johnson said. “I don’t know what I screamed on
the radio, but I know it didn’t sound like my voice. I
was thinking, ‘You’d better take your finger off the
button. That didn’t sound like you.’ Yes, that was as
dramatic and as crazy as I’ve ever experienced in
The win was the 80th of Johnson’s illustrious
career and his first at Homestead – one of only four
current Sprint Cup Series tracks where he’d never
been to Victory Lane. More importantly, Johnson
made history by tying legends Richard Petty and the
late Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers with seven
championships in NASCAR’s premier series.
Petty, NASCAR’s all-time wins leader with 200
victories, was on hand to witness the occasion.
“Records are a mark and they set something for
everyone to shoot at,” Petty said. “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. … Jimmie is a
great champion and this is really good for our sport.”
Johnson’s triumph at Homestead was a micro-
cosm of his season, and in many ways an embodi-
ment of his low-key personality that some over the
years have dubbed “vanilla.”
The lesson to be learned from Homestead and
the season is simple: Don’t ever underestimate
Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48
Hendrick Motorsports team.
Throughout his stellar career, Johnson has consistently been underestimated by pundits – and even
perhaps a few competitors – only to almost always
rise to the occasion when it has mattered most.
“I hate to be this blunt, but … he is probably the
most underrated champion in this sport, to be honest with you,” said Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief for
all seven of his championships. “He is a fantastic,
fantastic individual, an amazing race car driver.
Most people in the situation we were just in would
crumble, and he didn’t even waver. He knew what
he needed to do. He knew what the demands were
on him at that point in time, and he made it happen.
“You know, and that’s the difference in the whole
thing from my standpoint. We’ve got a great team.
We’ve got a great owner. We’ve got a great every-
thing and Hendrick Motorsports is fantastic, but
the fact of the matter is the real spark in this whole
thing is Jimmie.”
At Homestead-Miami Speedway when Johnson
struggled to find enough speed in his No. 48
Chevrolet for most of the race, it was vintage J.J.
“The 48, they were nowhere all day, and just
kind of ran around, I don’t know, probably, I’d guess
sixth, but never really showed their hand at all and
didn’t really show any speed, never really led any
laps until the last one, and that’s the only one that
really matters,” said Championship 4 contender
Kyle Busch, who finished sixth in the race and third
in the championship.
Perhaps Johnson, never one to go overboard in
outward expressions of confidence, knew something no one else did.
“What’s wild is I never thought it was a bleak
night,” he said. “There was this weird, comfortable
confidence I had all night long. Maybe weird is the
wrong word to use, but I was just – I felt like something was going to happen, and I was going to be OK
with it. For a while I came to grips with the reality of it
being third, fourth, somewhere in there and shaking
somebody else’s hand and being happy for them,
and then it changed so quick at the end.”
JARED TURNER GE T T Y IMAGES
With a seventh championship trophy now in hand, Jimmie
Johnson is already considering
the possibility of an eighth
title – which would break his
tie with Richard Petty and
the late Dale Earnhardt.
“I don’t know what the
chances are, but let’s go,”
Johnson said after capturing
No. 7. “I’m so excited to put
that in front of myself, and
the team has a hurdle to get
over and an accomplishment
to achieve. This one and the
calm nature and the way we
went about business and got
it done only gives me more
confidence for the future. I
honestly feel like I’m playing
with house money. I never
aspired to be famous. I never
aspired to be a champion. I
just wanted to race.
“I’ve found a way to put it
in that simple mindset here
the last couple attempts, in
’ 13 and now in ’ 16. I think it
makes us really dangerous,
and I look for ward to the
challenge of trying to get
Johnson’s boss, 12-time
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
champion team owner Rick
Hendrick, likewise can’t help
but think about the possibilities for Johnson and veteran
crew chief Chad Knaus.
“I think winning seven and
tying seven is pretty special,”
Hendrick said. “I’m excited to
see him, he and Chad, try to
break the record now because
we’re tied, and you can’t go
to eight until you get seven.”