On Sunday evening in the far reaches of southern Miami-Dade County, Johnson races for his seventh Cup series championship, a feat only accomplished by racing legends Richard Petty
On Sunday evening in the far reaches of southern Miami-Dade County, Johnson races for his seventh Cup series championship, a feat only accomplished by racing legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
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If Johnson were to win Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway — or just beat out rivals Joey Lugano, Carl Edwards and defending Cup champ Kyle Busch — his place in auto racing history will be cemented as one of the all-time greats.
Not that it already isn’t, mind you.
“He’s right at the top of the heap right now, just winning six,” Petty told the Charlotte Observer. “Winning all the races he’s won, it would just be another mark beside his name. I guess it’ll move him into a different deal, because with Earnhardt and me, there were seven of them. He’s done six. It’d be a really big deal.”
Johnson, 41, has been one of Nascar’s most dominant drivers in its history, winning six Cup titles in his first 12 full-time seasons on the circuit, his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy becoming a mainstay on victory lanes across the country.
Running for Rick Hendrick’s juggernaut, Johnson — a native of southern California — has become a fan favorite in a sport with deep southern roots.
Winning five consecutive Cup titles from 2006-10 sure didn’t hurt his popularity.
Yet for Johnson to join Petty and Earnhardt atop Nascar mountain, he’ll have to get things going on the circuit’s southernmost venue, one of the few tracks Johnson has yet to win at.
While coach Jimmy Johnson enjoyed much success in Miami, driver Jimmie Johnson has not.
Johnson has never won at the speedway Ralph Sanchez built out of Homestead farmland, his best finishes in 15 races being second in 2004 and 2010.
That’s not to say Johnson hasn’t had his fun in South Florida as all six of his championships have been crowned at Homestead.
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With the different championship formats of the time, Johnson just didn’t need to push things too hard to win a title.
In Johnson’s previous championship runs, the end result was all but assured before the massive haulers made their way down the Turnpike extension and turned onto Speedway Boulevard.
In 2006, for instance, Johnson finished ninth at Homestead and still beat Matt Kenseth by 56 points in the standings to claim his first Cup championship.
In 2013, Johnson also finished ninth at Homestead and still beat Kenseth by 19 points for the season title — his sixth.
“Unfortunately, we’re racing during the Jimmie Johnson era,” Denny Hamlin said that night in 2013. “Being out there and racing with him, I can say that I think he’s the best that there ever was. He’s racing against competition that’s tougher than this sport’s ever seen.”
This time around, however, Johnson is going to have a race to the finish as he must beat out his three final rivals to be crowned champ at Homestead.
Sunday’s Ford 400 is all about the order of finish; the top finisher of the ‘Championship 4’ wins the title.
“I feel like the times we’ve had to go down and be aggressive, we’ve been in the mix,” Johnson told nascar.com earlier this week.
“I feel like we can answer the call. I really do. It is different than any championship environment I’ve had down there but I also feel like I have a big advantage mentally.”
Said crew chief Chad Knaus: “This is definitely unique, starting at zero and just going out there for the best man to win. I’m comfortable with it. I’m looking forward to it.”
Although all eyes will be on Johnson’s quest for stock car immorality, the other three drivers in the hunt will have plenty to say in the matter.
Edwards comes in as the third seed in the chase but could be considered a favorite to win his first title. Edwards, also from California, has won a pair of Cup races at Homestead (2008, 2010) in his career — more than any of the final four drivers.
Edwards has also finished in the top 5 at Homestead five times in his career and has seven top-10 finishes.
In the 2011 race at Homestead, Edwards finished second to Tony Stewart and ended up losing the series title on a tiebreaker as he and Stewart were tied in points.
As Stewart pointed out on Twitter the other day, Edwards has another shot at this thing.
So, if you haven’t bought a ticket yet for Sunday @HomesteadMiami, will this make you do it? Carl’s got another shot. Just sayin.
— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) November 15, 2016
Busch comes into the weekend ready to defend the title he won here last November and he will try and do so by beating out Edwards — he teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Last year, Busch came from behind to win the Ford 400 and claim his first Cup title. If he finishes atop the chase board Sunday, he’ll become the first since Johnson in 2010 to win back-to-back Cup championships and join the likes of Earnhardt, Petty and Jeff Gordon to do so.
“It’s obviously a great opportunity to be able to go race for a championship, and that’s what this format is,” Busch said.
“It’s all reset to zero. There’s four of us that go for winner-take-all at Homestead. It means a lot to have that opportunity. It’s what your whole season comes down to.”
Ford Championship Weekend
At Homestead-Miami Speedway
▪ Camping World Truck Series: Practice 8:30-9:30 a.m. (FS1); Practice 10:30-11:25 a.m. (FS1); Qualifying 3:45 p.m. (FS1); Ford EcoBoost 200 (134 laps) 8 p.m. (FS1)
▪ Xfinity Series: Practice 2-3:25 p.m. (NBCSN); Practice 5-5:55 (NBCSN).
▪ Sprint Cup: Practice 12:30-1:55 p.m. (NBCSN); Qualifying 6:15 (NBCSN).
▪ Xfinity Series: Qualifying 11:15 a.m. (NBCSN); Ford EcoBoost 300 (200 laps) 3:30 p.m. (NBCSN).
▪ Sprint Cup: Practice 10-10:55 a.m. (NBCSN); Practice 1-1:50 (NBCSN).
▪ Sprint Cup: Ford EcoBoost 400 (267 laps, 400.5 miles), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).