Johnson grabs title, Kenseth wins Ford 400
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- In what has to go down as the friendliest rivalry in the history of motorsports, Jimmie Johnson locked up the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a Ford 400 dominated by race winner Matt Ke...
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- In what has to go down as the friendliest rivalry in the history of motorsports, Jimmie Johnson locked up the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a Ford 400 dominated by race winner Matt Kenseth.
Johnson, who needed a finish of 18th or better to clinch the title (19th after he led the first lap from the top starting spot), won his second straight Cup championship with a finish of seventh to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon's fourth.
Johnson entered the race with an 86-point lead over Gordon, the only other driver in position to win the championship Sunday, and left Homestead with a final margin of 77.
Kenseth beat charging Kurt Busch to the finish line by .852 seconds after a restart with nine laps remaining in the 267-lap event at the 1.5-mile speedway. Denny Hamlin ran third, Gordon fourth and Carl Edwards fifth, as qualifiers in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup grabbed the first eighth positions.
Anyone who doubted the camaraderie between the Hendrick teammates would have had their skepticism erased at the drivers' meeting that preceded the race, where Johnson and Gordon sat side-by-side and talked to one another during lulls in the proceedings.
That closeness carried over into the race, where Gordon simply couldn't get away from the teammate with whom he shares shop space.
Johnson said the experience of winning his first title last year made a big difference in the quest for this year's championship.
"Coming into this season and into this night, it was much smoother for me," said Johnson, who surged to the points lead with victories in the four races that preceded Homestead.
That streak, which enabled Johnson to become the first back-to-back Cup champion since Gordon accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998, was the result of hard racing, not conservative strategy.
"I was points racing -- I was trying to get maximum points," Johnson said. "We wanted to show the racing world that we really wanted to win this thing and wanted to race for it.
"He ran a smart race," Gordon said. "When you've got an 86-point lead, you can do that. It's a bittersweet thing for me, because we had the most awesome year ... and yet we got beat. It's going to make us hungry in the offseason -- I can tell you that.
"I'll be honest with you. I'll take a 5.1 (average finish, which Gordon posted in the last 10 races) for the rest of my career in the Chase, and I'm pretty sure that will win a few championships."
Though Gordon led Johnson in the running order for much of the race, the four-time champion was never far from Johnson's sights. The primary concern for the 2007 champ was avoiding contact in traffic on the occasions when he restarted back in the field.
Gordon restarted fourth and Johnson sixth on Lap 198, after a caution for Sam Hornish Jr.'s brush with the Turn 3 wall on Lap 193. Though Gordon grabbed third position from Kurt Busch and challenged Martin Truex Jr. for second early in the run, the handling on the No. 24 Chevy tightened and Gordon began to lose positions, surrendering fifth to Johnson on Lap 233.
Johnson and Gordon stayed out under the seventh and final caution of the race, after Tony Stewart slammed into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 254. Gordon restarted sixth and Johnson seventh on Lap 259, and though Gordon gained two positions over the final laps, it wasn't nearly enough.
NOTES: Kenseth, who led 214 laps, gave owner Jack Roush his fourth straight win at Homestead and his fifth in six races at the Florida track. ... Forced to start his final race with Dale Earnhardt Inc. from the back of the field because of a post-qualifying transmission change, Dale Earnhardt Jr. worked his way up as high as fifth during a cycle of green-flag pit stops, but a tap from Jeff Burton sent the No. 8 Chevrolet into the frontstretch wall on Lap 58 and relegated Junior to a 36th-place finish, six laps down. ... Ricky Rudd finished 21st in his 906th and final start in the Cup Series. Rudd is second only to Richard Petty (1,184) on the all-time starts list.