In the beginning, there was Chad Knaus and his orchestration of the championships. His design took a young driver to 4 in a row. But then the pack began to catch up and catch on. Making the drive for 5 littered with miscalculations and miscues. A mid race crew change during the chase, lack luster finishes and the closest points battle in chase history would bring the 48 into Homestead. The Chad Knaus lead crew would stumble, not once, not twice, but three times. It would very quickly become evident the championship hopes of the 48 team rested with the man behind the wheel. Could Jimmie do it? Could he drive his way to his 5th championship despite the struggles? Jimmie Johnson answered that question with a very decisive YES I CAN! And he did.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]But the race was not without questions and incidents that will raise eyebrows forever. The final race of the year began with inconsistencies, with Brian France stating on Friday that NASCAR was a full contact sport and then Robin Pemberton ending the driver’s meeting with the statement that, “‘Have it’ has it’s limits.” The final statement being made in an attempt to detour team mates of the top three competitors from playing a part in the out come of the championship. Something that it appeared did not apply to NASCAR themselves.
A speeding penalty coming on to pit road was handed out to Kevin Harvick who,as evidenced by the video replay, was clearly sandwiched between two cars coming on to pit road, though neither the car behind or in front was found to be speeding. Oddly, the penalty came after the 29 had taken the lead off pit road and would have garnered 5 bonus points that would have been permanent points not effected by positions on the track. “There is no way I was between two cars. You can’t go from 49.1, 49.4, to 50 something between two cars.” Ranted an angry Kevin Harvick. Harvick also commented, “That NASCAR was doing what they do best.” His statement did not go further than that. But the televised broadcast featured a ghost voice that when the penalty was announced, stated,”You are surprised?”
This is not the first time a speeding penalty has altered the out come of a race. But it is the first time that it has played a role in the championship. Part of the issue is that the speed on pit road is determined by gun time, not transponder time. Indy Car, F1 all use transponder time to determine speed. NASCAR continues to hold on the antique method of using a radar gun and the time for sections of pit road. This method increases the chance for human error. Errors that numerous drivers have sworn have cost them positions and races. Speeding penalties are not appeal-able, and NASCAR does not enter into discussion with teams over them. They are blanket penalties handed out immediately after the infraction. This one came two caution laps after the fact.
In fairness, to the champion, the 5 points would not have changed the out come for the championship. Harvick finished 3rd 41 points back. But he would have finished 2nd with those 5 points 37 points down to champion Johnson.
Denny Hamlin all year long has predicted his success with uncanny accuracy. At times it seemed that he was reading it from a script. His confidence took a blow in Phoenix when he had to pit for fuel late in the race and Johnson and Harvick did not. However, coming into Homestead his confidence was again high.
It’s ironic that it would be a poor qualifying spot that would ultimately cost him the championship. Hamlin known for being a strong qualifier and starting in the top half of the field most every race, qualified a deep 33. Coming up through the field he would tangle with Greg Biffle and spin down across the grass. Minimal damage would prove crucial to the performance of the car with the front splitter being bent up. Mike Ford and his crew would make minimum repairs never fully repairing the damage. The car, according to Hamlin “was never right after that.” Hamlin said the incident was no one’s fault just that there wasn’t room for 3 abreast at that time on the track.
At one point Hamlin was caught a lap down when a caution flew shortly after pit stops, forcing him to take the wave around and not pit. It would be a caution brought on by Kevin Harvick and Hamlin’s team mate Kyle Busch that would give Hamlin the chance to pit and regain lost track position. Hamlin would finish 14th without ever being a factor in the race.
The race was dominated by Carl Edwards. Edwards who lead the most laps and won the race never really struggled. The television audience saw little of the racing besides the three championship contenders so how hard fought that win was is only known by those who actually attended.
There is no question, however as to how hard fought Johnson’s 5th championship was. Johnson at one time in the flow of points was 3rd with Hamlin leading by 34. This year Johnson and his 48 team had to work for it. It came down to not the crack crew of HMS or the brilliance of Chad Knaus. Instead it came down to the skills and determination of the driver behind the wheel. Skills that many of his detractors had claimed were substandard and lacking over the last few years. But this year in his drive for 5 Jimmie Johnson showed the world that he is a 5 time champion for a reason. His desire, determination and heart and soul truly do drive the 48 team to the excellence they have displayed on the track over the last 5 years. His place in NASCAR history is sealed. The HMS dynasty of 10 championships is unequalled. And there is no sign that they are looking backwards.
Perhaps however, the most telling part of the celebration came when during the presentation of the cup and the check Jimmie Johnson took the microphone from Alan Bestwick and said, “I got the most important trophy of my life earlier this year when my daughter was born. This is just icing on the cake.” For the first time in his career perhaps, Jimmie Johnson peeled away his vanilla image and showed the world who he is as a man. It was a great view of a great and deserving champion who earned his seat at the head table with the same dignity and honor that he has represented the sport with for the last 4 years.
Many claim that by winning for the 5th time he has, “destroyed all interest in NASCAR.” If that is the case the individuals that will walk away from the sport had little interest in anything but the rock star images in the first place. Those who claim they will never again watch NASCAR because Jimmie Johnson won again and he is a cheater. We will miss you. But more importantly, you will miss the sport as it goes into what could be the most exciting next phase of it’s evolution. For those who claim the script was written before the year even started, I would say if that is so, Jimmie Johnson and HMS got a different one than the one Denny Hamlin quoted line and verse from every week.
To Jimmie and Chad and all the 48 team past and current, and of course Rick Hendrick, Congratulations on adding a new aspect to who you are by being the underdog and pulling it out anyway. You truly are representative of the classic phrase on Any Given Day.
Congratulations to Todd Bodine and Germain Racing on the Camping World Truck Series Championship. To Kyle Busch Motorsports on it’s first Truck owners championship in it’s inaugural year. Congratulations to Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing on their first Nationwide Series Championship and to Joe Gibbs Racing on it’s first Car Owners Championship in the Nationwide Series. Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports on it’s fifth Sprint Cup Series Championship and to Hendrick Motorsports on it’s record setting 10th championship.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you had to give every single week, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.