Jimmie Johnson drove a controlled race to secure his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup, just one shy of NASCAR royalty, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
“I’m so thankful for this opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports,” said Johnson, after finishing ninth at Homestead. “Thankful that Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick gave us this opportunity back in 2002. This sport is about people and our people at Hendrick Motorsports, especially on the 48 car, rose up to get the job done this year. I am so proud to drive for this race team and so honored and so excited to have the six-pack.”
While Johnson was celebrating the victory of his sixth title, Denny Hamlin celebrated the end of a tough season in victory lane. Hamlin held on to the win ahead of Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who were locked in a strong battle for second place in the final 12 laps of the race.
Knowing that all he had to do was finish in 24th to secure the 2013 championship, Johnson did his best to stay out of trouble, a feat he managed until lap 194, when things started to get a bit scary for the #48. Coming off a debris caution, race leader Jeff Gordon spun his tyres, causing a traffic jam behind which saw Johnson make contact with championship rival Kenseth, resulting in slight left-front damage on Johnson’s car.
Johnson dropped down the field, with fears he had a cut tyre, but was then involved in a close battle with Greg Biffle, at one point making contact with the #16. Luckily for Johnson, however, another caution flag came out on lap 206, allowing him to come in to the pits and repair the small damage caused.
Kenseth dominated the early stages of the race, leading 79 of the first 88 laps and going on to lead a race-high 144 laps in the 267 lap race. Following the incident with Johnson on lap 194, Kenseth dropped down to 14th but quickly worked his way back in to the top ten.
“Obviously it’s been a great year, the best year I’ve ever had,” said Kenseth. “I’ve had a lot of fun racing over at Joe Gibbs Racing and I’m really happy for Denny getting that win, I think that will help us all with some momentum over the off-season. I really enjoyed our year, we had a great weekend, a great night. Had a lot of fun racing Dale, Jr. I just wish it was for a win, but that was a lot of fun. It’s always fun to race somebody that you like and that you can trust, you race hard with back and forth, know what to expect.”
“Jimmie and that team are obviously unbelievable,” he continued. “Never seen anything like this in the sport and probably will never see anything like it again. It’s amazing with as tight as the rules are, multi-car teams, information sharing, and all that stuff. It’s amazing they can figure out how to do that year after year.”
Both drivers worked their way back to the sharp end of the field, with Kenseth successfully battling with Earnhardt, Jr. for second while Johnson ended up ninth, having given up two positions in the dying laps knowing he was still in a safe position to secure the title.
Aside from the championship battles, one of the major talking points of the race was Paul Menard’s crazy incident which saw his right-rear tyre literally explode while in the pits. The #27 had come in to the pits after his team had noticed a fire coming out of the back of the car. As the car came to a standstill in its pit stall, the team came round to put the fire out, at which point the tyre gave way in a big way. Luckily no-one was hurt.
Elsewhere, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton raced their last races for Richard Childress Racing, with many expecting Nationwide Series winner Austin Dillon to move up to a full-time Sprint Cup drive for 2014. Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex, Jr. also drove their last races for their respective teams and Juan Pablo Montoya competed in his last NASCAR race for the foreseeable future, returning to IndyCar in 2014 with Penske Racing.