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Johnson cuts tire, crashes on lap 126

11/21/2005

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson desperately wanted to see
a caution flag. He didn't want to cause it, though.

Johnson crashed out of NASCAR's season finale Sunday at
Homestead-Miami Speedway, ending his chance to win the Nextel Cup
championship.

Johnson, who finished second in the points standings the last
two years, entered the race 52 points behind Tony Stewart. But he
faded to the back of the field midway through the Ford 400 and was
hoping for a caution flag so he to get to pit road to fix an
unknown problem.

Instead, the right rear tire on his No. 48 Chevrolet exploded on
the backstretch during lap 126, sending him spinning into the wall
and knocking him out of the Chase for the championship.

"I lived my whole life for this," he said. "End up blowing a
tire and being out, that's part of it. But I'll be back next
year."

Johnson finished 40th in the race and fifth in the points
standings behind series champion Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle,
Carl Edwards and Mark Martin.

"I look back at the season and we did everything we could," he
said. "I'm disappointed, but very proud of my team and everybody
involved. We'll be back next year."

Johnson won four races this season, including two during the
10-race Chase. He started the season with seven consecutive top-10
finishes and stayed in the hunt for the title the rest of the way.
He was either first or second in the points after all but seven
races -- including the finale.

Crew chief Chad Knaus said the team would rebound.

"This is the best team in motorsports," he said. "We can
bounce back from anything, easy. We've gone through more trials and
tribulations as a team than any other team has possibly tried to
overcome, and we have overcome it all.

"This is a championship-caliber team, and it has been since its
inception. So we'll come back next year and battle for the
championship."

Johnson and Knaus avoided disastrous finishes the last two
years.

Johnson started last year's finale at Homestead 18 points behind
Kurt Busch. He did everything he could to win it all -- he finished
second in the race -- but fell eight points shy of beating Busch for
the title.

He wasn't quite as close in 2003, when Matt Kenseth wrapped up
the title a week before the finale.

But finishing second two years in a row and then staying in the
hunt for most of the season have made the Hendrick Motorsports team
one of the ones to beat.

"Consistency will sooner or later pay off for us," Knaus said.
"And we'll get the trophy. It just hasn't been meant to be just
yet."