Johnson Earns Sixth Cup Title, Earnhardt Finishes Third at Homestead
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson clinched his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with a ninth-place finish, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. concluded Sunday's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in third place at the 1.5-mile oval. Johnson now trails Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., who have seven titles apiece. Sunday’s Cup championship win marks the 11th for Hendrick Motorsports and car owner Rick Hendrick. Hendrick is the all-time leader in Sprint Cup owner championships and remains the only owner to win titles with three different drivers: Johnson (6), Gordon (4) and Terry Labonte. On Sunday, Earnhardt was joined inside the top 13 by his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson (ninth), Gordon (11th) and Kasey Kahne (13th).
Here is the race recap by team: Kasey Kahne opened Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup finale from the 13th position and encouraged his team to finish the season strong. Kahne spent the majority of the race chasing the handling of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS with crew chief Kenny Francis. Initially, Kahne reported a tight-handling condition that Francis addressed when the caution flag was waved a second time on Lap 23. During the ensuing pit stop, Francis ordered four fresh tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Kahne restarted 20th and climbed to 13th before reporting a loose-handling concern. Francis ordered more adjustments, which helped, but then the No. 5 Chevy SS swung to the tight side as the sun set over the 1.5-mile South Florida oval. Kahne climbed as high as 11th, which is where he was running when he reported a vibration with just under 100 laps to go. He made an unscheduled pit stop for Francis and the No. 5 team to check it out. He returned to the track with fresh left-side tires running 26th and improved to finish 13th.
Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid 26th on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway and had improved to 19th before the first caution flag was waved on Lap 11. The driver of the No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS reported a loose-handling condition that crew chief Alan Gustafson addressed during the ensuing four-tire and fuel stop under caution. As the race unfolded, Gustafson told Gordon he was posting lap times two-tenths faster than the competition, and Gordon cracked the top five by Lap 43. When the caution flag waved on Lap 67, Gordon, running fourth, radioed Gustafson that he couldn’t afford to lose any more drive-off. “Don’t change much,” Gordon said. “But let’s be ready when the sun goes down.” Gustafson obliged and Gordon held steady inside the top 10. Approaching 100 laps to go, Gordon passed teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take the fourth position. Gordon improved to run second before falling into third with 85 laps to go. The No. 24 team turned in a solid four-tire stop during the Lap 189 caution period, and Gordon lined up second for the restart. He was shuffled back to eighth after a wild restart. Gordon improved to fifth, which is where he pitted during the Lap 231 caution period for four tires, fuel and adjustments. He returned to the field running fourth and lined up sixth for the restart. He ultimately crossed the finish line 11th.
Chad Knaus had a simple set of instructions for Jimmie Johnson to start Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Homestead-Miami Speedway – “Let’s go have some fun.” That’s exactly what the No. 48 team set out to do as Johnson wheeled the Lowe’s Chevrolet SS to his sixth Sprint Cup title. Johnson lined up seventh for the start of the 267-lap event and was immediately took the field three-wide within the first three laps to challenge for fifth. Johnson and Knaus worked through an initial snug-handling condition on the No. 48 Chevy SS, and Johnson remained inside the top 10 as the first half of the race played out. He exited pit road in fifth after a stop under caution on Lap 154 for four tires, fuel and adjustments and was holding steady there 20 laps later. With 91 laps remaining, Knaus asked Johnson to save fuel if it didn’t affect his speed. Johnson obliged and was still running fifth when the caution flag was waved on Lap 189 for debris. The No. 48 team executed a cautious stop under caution, and Johnson returned to the field running eighth. On the restart, Johnson was shuffled back to 23rd – cutoff for him to win the championship without winning any laps. Johnson was running 16th when the caution flag was waved on Lap 206. He reported a tight-handling condition, and Knaus instructed the No. 48 team to pull the fender, which was affected during the recent mashup on the restart. Johnson returned to line up 17th for the restart and improved to crack the top 10 by Lap 231 when the yellow flag was waved. Johnson stopped for four tires, fuel and returned running 12th. A long green-flag run unfolded during the final laps, and Johnson crossed the finish line ninth to record his sixth Cup title.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 21st for Sunday’s season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He worked his way into 12th by Lap 27 and held steady there despite a loose-handling condition. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS improved to run ninth by Lap 60 and when the caution flag was waved seven laps later, he requested crew chief Steve Letarte tighten up the No. 88 Chevy SS. The adjustments, plus four tires and fuel helped, and Earnhardt restarted seventh on Lap 72. He remained inside the top 10, and told Letarte during a pit stop under caution on Lap 91 that if the No. 88 team could tighten up the car, he would show them some lap times. Earnhardt delivered on that promise and with four more tires, fuel and extra adjustments, he restarted sixth before rocketing to second. He led Lap 140 when green-flag stops were underway and resumed to lead the field after stops had cycled through completely. Earnhardt led another 11 laps before the caution flag was waved for debris. This time, the No. 88 team opted for a two-tire stop and lined up second for the restart. He hovered inside the top six as the green-flag run unfolded and restarted third after a solid four-tire and fuel stop under caution on Lap 189. Earnhardt improved to second and continued to gain on the leader with 62 laps left. Earnhardt returned to lead the field until a pit road incident triggered the yellow flag on Lap 231. The No. 88 team anticipated running short of fuel if the race played out under green-flag conditions, so Earnhardt took advantage of the caution period to stop for four tires and fuel. He lined up second for the restart and immediately took the lead. Earnhardt slipped to third after pacing the field a few laps and returned to fight for second in the closing green-flag laps. He finished third.