Jimmie Johnson wins 5th straight title
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson wasn't the best all year. Not even close.
When it mattered, though, he couldn't be beat.
For the fifth consecutive year.
Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick took the champion all the way to the edge this season, waging the most serious threats yet to Johnson's reign atop NASCAR. Only the outcome didn't change, and Johnson maintained his ironclad hold on the Sprint Cup.
Johnson became the first driver in the seven-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to overcome a points deficit in the season finale, finishing second Sunday to race winner Carl Edwards while winning his record fifth consecutive title.
He became only the third driver to overcome a points deficit in the season's final race and win the championship since 1975. The final margin was 39 points over Hamlin, and 41 over Harvick, who finished third in the race.
Sprint Cup Championship
Denny Hamlin has plenty to be proud of but that won't lessen the sting of losing the Chase in the final race, writes Terry Blount. Story
Kevin Harvick didn't win the Sprint Cup title for Richard Childress Racing. But he did win a ton of respect -- in and out of the garage, writes David Newton. Story
Jimmie Johnson won a fifth straight championship, so who can stop him from getting a sixth straight, asks Ed Hinton. Story
So despite all the wins -- 53 of them over nine seasons -- and all the celebrations, this one at Homestead-Miami Speedway was obviously very different. Usually so calm and workmanlike behind the wheel, Johnson was exuberant as he crossed the finish line, pumping his fists in the car while screaming "this is unbelievable!" over and over.
"I've always told you the first championship, the first win, that stuff has meant the most to me. This one, I think this takes the lead," Johnson said. "It's not that the other Chases weren't competitive. We were stronger in the previous two Chases, at least, but this one, I am just so proud."
Maybe because for the first time since his reign began in 2006, Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team seemed vulnerable. Harvick was the most consistent driver of the 26-race "regular season," and Hamlin, with a series-best eight wins this year, was the popular pick to dethrone Johnson.
Hamlin carried a 15-point lead into the finale, but struggled the entire race and turned Sunday into a battle of which driver would make the fewest mistakes.
It ultimately was Johnson, who overcame a few slow pit stops by a team that's been in the spotlight since crew chief Chad Knaus benched his team in the middle of a race at Texas three weeks ago. The next day, the crews for Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon were swapped for the final two races of the year.
The No. 48 team rose above all the drama, even after a mid-race stop cost Johnson five spots.
"I think this year we showed what this team is made of," he said. "At times this season we didn't have the most speed, but we had the most heart."
Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing team felt otherwise, especially as they outperformed Johnson during the Chase. But poor fuel mileage last week in Phoenix kept it tight headed into Sunday, and he had a terrible race when he needed only a clean run.
Contact with Greg Biffle very early in the race sent Hamlin into a spin and damaged the front of his car. He dropped to 37th by the restart and had to work all day to finish 14th.
"We had a great year, we won the most races that we ever won, we contended like we've never contended before and just circumstances took us out of this one," Hamlin said.
Harvick, meanwhile, took the lead on a round of pit stops with 80 laps to go, but was flagged for speeding as he entered pit road. It dropped him to 29th, and he was still upset with the call after the race.
"I don't think that penalty will ever settle in my stomach," Harvick said, insisting that "only a handful of people" get to see the pit road speeds. "I won't ever settle for that."
But he wasn't devastated by the defeat, pointing to all the gains made this year by Richard Childress Racing. A year after failing to put any cars into the Chase, RCR had three in the field and Harvick, winner of two races, led the points for most of the regular season.
Championship Notes -- Jimmie Johnson
With his unprecedented fifth straight Sprint Cup title, Jimmie Johnson further padded his already impressive resume.
• Fifth NSCS championship in his ninth full time season.
• Only driver to win four/five straight NSCS championships in the 62 NSCS seasons.
• Third driver to win five or more Championships: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt - 7.
• All five championships have come under the Chase format.
• Only driver that has been in all seven Chases.
• Only the third time the point lead changed in the final race since 1975 (1979, 1992).
• Finished the season with 9 consecutive top 10 finishes.
• Fifth championship won in his ninth full-time season. Richard Petty won his fifth in his 16th season, Dale Earnhardt in his 13th season.
• Won his fifth NSCS Championship in 327 starts. It took Dale Earnhardt 390 starts and Richard Petty 655.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
"It's a 180 for us," Harvick said.
While Harvick could find the bright spots, Hamlin, sitting next to him at the podium, had a harder time finding much to be happy about. With a vacant look and muffled answers, he vowed to be back stronger next season.
"My job is to work in the offseason to do everything I can to be better and, you know, I know every year that I am in the Cup series, I'm going to be better than I was the previous year," Hamlin said. "We're going to keep working and go get them next year."
As both drivers discussed their day, Johnson's championship celebration was shown on the multiple televisions hanging around the room and both drivers watched portions of the presentation.
Who could blame them? It was history.
The fifth title moved Johnson past Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for most titles among active drivers. He now ranks third on the career list behind seven-time champions and Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
"Finally, finally, after being able to pull this off, he'll get the respect and the rewards that he deserves," Knaus said.
The championship was a record 10th for Hendrick Motorsports, which broke a tie with Petty Enterprise for most in NASCAR. Johnson and HMS also joined three other pro teams -- the Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Montreal Canadiens -- to win five consecutive titles. The Celtics are the all-time leaders with eight consecutive NBA titles.
"Somebody has got to win it, and I'm glad it was us," team owner Rick Hendrick said, noting "this race was so up and down. It was like who's going to screw up the most?"
Not Johnson and Knaus, who once again showed why they've been so good for so long.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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THE END OF THE ROAD
The 2010 Sprint Cup season came down to three drivers -- Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick -- with a shot at the championship trophy. Only one was left standing at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Columns• Hinton: Six in a row for Johnson?
• Blount: Hamlin falls short
• Newton: Harvick serves notice
• Hinton: Sunday should be fun
• Newton: Chase for Cup too close to call
• Blount: Sunset dreams at Homestead
• Newton: Are Chase changes needed?
• Hinton: Bowyer still left wondering
• Hinton: Johnson's back to the wall
• Blount: Harvick channeling his inner-E
• Newton: Hamlin one cool customer
• Blount: Is Hamlin jinxed?
• Newton: Hamlin's crew chief ready to roll
• Newton: Chase drama trumps Edwards' win
Racing Live!• Homestead on ESPN.com: Rewind
Blogs• Smith: A candid conversation with Hamlin
• McGee: Trash talk is good
• Willis: Is it Kevin Harvick's turn?
• Newton: Owners kick-start Homestead week
• Willis: Does Hamlin have confidence?
Practice, qualifying and news• JJ qualifies ahead of Harvick, Hamlin
• Earnhardt unsure crew chief change needed
• Denny Hamlin car at fuel disadvantage
• NASCAR open to Chase changes
More weekend coverage• Edwards wins; Johnson rolls to title | Results
• Kyle Busch takes Nationwide finale
• Kyle Busch rolls in Trucks race
• Danica's Double 2010: End of the line
NASCAR Video• Homestead highlights
• Jimmie Johnson celebrates again
• Hard to swallow for Denny Hamlin
• Sprint Cup qualifying
• Have at it boys remix
• Denny Hamlin's long road back
• Hamlin's crew chief Ford ready
• NASCAR Now: Is the pressure off JJ?
• SportsCenter: Tricky for contenders
• The Final Chase: Kevin Harvick
• The Final Chase: Denny Hamlin
• The Final Chase: Jimmie Johnson
• EA Track Preview: Homestead
• Tale of the tape
Podcasts• Jayski: Ford 400 preview
• Rusty Wallace on Mike & Mike
• Denny Hamlin with Doug Gottlieb
• Jimmie Johnson on Mike & Mike
• Jayski: Jimmie, Denny and Kevin
• Jayski: Around the sport
Chats and wraps• Sunday: Garrow on fantasy, 9:30 a.m. ET
• Thursday: Ed Hinton wrap
• Wednesday: Terry Blount wrap
• Tuesday: David Newton wrap
• Monday: Ryan McGee wrap