Hamlin Wins At Homestead; Johnson Takes 6th Sprint Cup Championship

Homestead, FL – At the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Denny Hamlin won the day’s skirmish and Jimmie Johnson came away as the winner of the war – the season-long battle for the coveted NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship for the sixth time in eight years.

Hamlin’s win in the Ford EcoBoost 400 turned around his miserable season and ended his winless skein that goes back more than a year.

Driving the FedEx Express Toyota, Hamlin led five times, including the final 24 circuits en route to the victory.

In the championship battle, Johnson came to Homestead with a comforting 28-point lead and only needed to finish 23rd or better to sew up the title crown. He did just that as he finished ninth, although he ran higher in the order until getting caught in a traffic jam during a restart in the late going.

His margin of victory was 15 points ahead of race dominator Matt Kenseth, who finished second after leading a race-high 144 laps. Kevin Harvick ended up third 34 points behind.

For the 2013 season, the 37-year old driver won six times and earned 24 top 10’s with only one DNF in 36 races. During the 2013 10-race playoffs, Johnson won twice and had nine top-10s, underscoring the consistency of his Hendrick team.

“I am at a loss for words, and I don’t even know where to start,” Johnson said. “I am so glad that Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick gave me this opportunity back in 2002. This sport is about people, and our people on the 48 car rose up and got the job done. I am so honored and so excited to have a six-pack.”

With his five championships, Johnson had affectionately become known as “5-Time” and with the new fete, his nickname has changed to “6-Pack.”

His championship moves him into third place in career championships, one behind legends Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. Asked how he feels to be knocking on destiny’s door, Johnson sidestepped the queries, saying, “I just want to enjoy the moment.”

Johnson credited crew chief Chad Knaus for keeping the team pointed forward, dealing with the new Gen-6 car, finding speed in the car and innovations to make them more competitive.

“I give Chad all the credit in the world for honing in on those things,” Johnson said. “We were in a position to win a lot during the course of the years. Unfortunately, we gave a lot away.”

Johnson heaped praise on the potent Hendrick Motorsports team, calling it a total team effort.

Owner Rick Hendrick said, “Jimmie has been great; Chad has been right on the money and Jimmie just drives the wheels right off of it. It’s hard to win one of these, and I am really proud of Jimmie and Chad for sinning six and the whole organization for getting 11. I never thought I’d win one, let alone 11.”

Added Knaus, who has 64 career wins, “It was a fantastic season. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you come into these events. I told the guys today to really focus on what we’ve achieved throughout the course of the season. Jimmie’s pretty spectacular; that dude’s pretty amazing. We’re pretty fortunate to have the year we had.”

For the race and the winner’s accomplishments, Hamlin scored his 23rd Sprint Cup win in 291 races, giving him a win in seven consecutive seasons. . His last win came in New Hampshire 14 months ago. Also, he won for the second time on the 1.5-mile HMS track.

“It has been a horrible year, and I was counting down the laps figuring I couldn’t keep my victory streak going, but I knew right away on the first run that we were going to have a shot at it,” he said. “I knew that (crew chief) Darien Grubb had given me a car that was capable of winning. As bad as the year has been, this win will give us solace from this finish and spend these next few months re-grouping and getting our team back in order. I feel like there’s no reason we can’t shoot out of the gate in 2014 just like we did in 2010.”

Added Grubb, “It was a really good day and an all-out team effort, but the strategy didn’t go our way after the first caution, as we were the only car to stay out. The pit crew did an incredible job and we gained positions on each stop.”

Team co-owner J. D. Gibbs commented, “This to me was one of the best wins we have had at Joe Gibbs Racing, as it capped off a combination of good things.”

Kenseth earned his 20th top-10 finish in 2013 and combined with his seven victories, he had an outstanding year in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. Focused on winning the race to be a formidable foe to Johnson, Kenseth gave it his all and was unfazed about losing the championship battle.

He drove the Dollar General Toyota.

“It was a really great night for us,” he said. “I am proud of everyone at JGR, Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin). Denny’s win is what we all needed honestly. We had a good night – we were really dominant when the sun was out, but we struggled a bit after it went down. A lot of that lies on the driver, who was a little reluctant to get up into the groove where I needed to be to make speed. I really wanted to win tonight, but overall, a great day and a great season.”

Earnhardt, who led 28 laps and battled hard for the lead, took third in the National Guard Chevrolet. Once again, he was chagrined not to win when he ran so well. When he did take the lead, the crowd stood and cheered for him lap after lap.

“It is a little disappointing, as we had such a good car and couldn’t capitalize,” he said. “It was just real hard to get by those guys at the end. They were protecting their position and Matt (Kenseth) was working hard to get points. We beat and banged a little bit; it was fun racing.”

Fourth and fifth were the Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-10 finishers.

In a fiery incident involving Paul Menard on the 232nd lap, his Chevrolet caught fire while circling the track and when he stopped to have the car checked out, the right rear tire exploded, yanking the wheel assembly from the car and knocking down the tire changer. No injuries were sustained.

Until the fire was contained, a smoke crowd enveloped the track.

“That was pretty wild,” Menard said. “On a previous restart, we got some right rear damage and had a flat tire. I guess a bunch of rubber got wrapped around the axle. We tried to get it off but couldn’t get it all, and I guess it just caught fire. I got out of the car as quick as I could.”

In total, eight caution flags consumed 37 laps.

After 10 months and 36 races, the Sprint Cup season has ended for the year but it won’t be long before the teams arrive in Daytona to begin another season.

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