Jimmie Johnson won his seventh NASCAR championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, besting Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards in the third edition of the elimination-style Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Johnson came into the race with six career titles and was going for his record-tying seventh to put him in an exclusive club that for years contained only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Johnson won for the first time at Homestead, one of only four current Sprint Cup Series tracks where Johnson had never tasted victory. He held off Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Logano on an overtime restart, sailing to the lead for the first time all day at the Ford EcoBoost 400.
"I'm just beyond words," Johnson said as he climbed out of the car. "I didn't think the race was unfolding for us like we needed it to give us a chance. (Crew chief) Chad Knaus called a great strategy and made some great adjustments for this short run. Some luck came our way, and we were able to win the race and the championship.
"Just thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm so thrilled to be given this opportunity and so blessed."
Petty, who won his titles in the 1960s and 1970s, said in a statement:
"Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at. Jimmie and his team have done that tonight. They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality. They did what they needed to do and now they are at seven championships. Congratulations to him and his team.
"Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. told USA TODAY Sports before the race he always would consider his late father the greatest, but Johnson, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, was "the best driver in this era."
Busch was trying to defend his 2015 crown and Logano and Edwards were both looking for their first Cup trophy.
It certainly wasn’t easy for Johnson, as all four drivers were running in the top six late in the race.
Some of the contenders had to face adversity during the day.
Johnson had to deal with a setback right from the start. His car was pulled off the starting grid and returned to the garage for a brief time, where NASCAR ruled his team made an unapproved modification after inspection.
The No. 48 team was forced to begin the race in the rear of the field, but Johnson quickly shook off that trouble. By lap 47, he was already in the top five.
Edwards saw his title hopes crushed when he tried to block an aggressive Logano on a restart with 10 laps to go before slamming into the wall.
Edwards had been one of the fastest cars in the field most of the day and had put himself in position to win the race and the title.
“That was the race of my life up to that point," Edwards said. "I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race. I could feel him (Logano) a little, and I just thought I’d clear him or force him to lift. I just thought I’d have a little more time. And that’s how it ended.’’
With 131 laps to go, Busch made an unscheduled pit stop under the green flag with what he thought was a flat tire. As it turned out, there was nothing wrong with the tire – and he went a lap down essentially due to a false alarm.
Busch was able to stay out long enough to catch a debris caution, which allowed him to pit with the leaders and get back on the same pit cycle. That kept him in contention.
Jeff Gluck, USA Today