Jimmie Johnson reserved himself a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame yesterday when he became the first driver in the 61-year history of NASCAR to win four consecutive Cup championships by finishing fifth at Homestead. Although you never know who might be involved in one of “the big ones,” there was little doubt he could achieve this landmark, since he only had to finish 25th or better at the start of the race to secure the title…27th or better after leading the first lap. Since 2006, Johnson has essentially owned the ten final races known as The Chase.
Johnson spent this season tied with Cale Yarborough, the only other NASCAR driver to win three in a row, for the consecutive championships record. He now stands alone in the record book. Having achieved his fourth title in only eight seasons, his winning pace also exceeds that of other four-time-or-more winners Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon. Can he win a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, or even an eighth? Driving for Hendrick Motorsports, the class act of today’s Sprint Cup scene, I don’t see why not. He and crew chief Chad Knaus are definitely on a roll and are showing no signs of fading anytime soon.
Also for the first time in NASCAR history, a single team achieved the “trifecta” when Hendrick drivers Johnson, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon finished the season in first, second, and third places overall.
In other on-track action yesterday, Juan Pablo Montoya showed “Smoke” what payback is all about. It all started on lap 116 when Montoya, probably inadvertently, bump-drafted Stewart. Later the same lap, Stewart retaliated by deliberately coming down on Montoya, cutting his right front tire, which put him into the wall. Montoya, a serious chase contender for the first time this year, had to go to the garage to fix the damage and lost 28 laps and any chance to finish higher than eighth in the championship standings. Juan Pablo emerged from the garage and went immediately on a mission of getting even. It didn’t take him long to chase Smoke down, and on lap 155 he bump-drafted him again, this time hard enough to buckle his own hood, and sent Tony spinning off the track and back to 33rd. Smoke eventually worked his way back up to 22nd, but Montoya’s message had been delivered; you don’t mess with the open-wheel star from Colombia. NASCAR penalized Juan Pablo two laps, but when you’re already down 28 what’s two more? Watch out for Montoya next year. He finally showed this year that a foreign-born open-wheeler with an Indy 500 win, seven Formula 1 wins, two Daytona 24-hour wins, and a CART championship can run with the good ol’ boys in taxicabs too. And he ain’t scared to do whatever bumping and grinding it takes to show he belongs there. With five top-five finishes in the ten races of this year’s chase, he showed a consistency that’s likely to make him a force to be reckoned with next season.
Now that the Formula 1, IndyCar, American Le Mans, Grand-Am, NHRA, World Rally, and NASCAR seasons are over, what am I going to write about between today and Daytona?