Johnson Gets Thumbs-up From Fans on Record-tying Seventh Title

Photo by Alan Marler/Harold Hinson Photography

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Maybe fans are starting to appreciate Jimmie Johnson’s greatness.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway for his record-tying seventh title on Sunday. He joined Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for the most wins all-time in NASCAR’s top series.

Johnson said he noticed that fans were rooting for him even before he turned a lap in the season finale. But that wasn’t always the case when Johnson was reeling off his five titles from 2006-10.

“Honestly, when I jumped in the back of the pickup truck after driver intros and they had the four of us and we were going around the track, I usually get flipped off a lot,” he said. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go.

“I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven.  All they way around the racetrack everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Johnson won his sixth title in 2013, so maybe after that drought folks are realizing winning championships isn’t as easy as Johnson once made it look.

“So I think the fact that we were in the position we were today to tie history, you know, even people wearing other hats and other tee shirts that normally shoot me the bird were holding up seven,” Johnson added. “It was really cool.”

The No. 48 driver had to overcome adversity to win his first title under this elimination-style format. Johnson was sent to the rear of the 40-car field for unapproved body modifications before the race began. There was also a close call with Brad Keselowski getting off pit road.

November 20, 2016: Jimmie Johnson wins the Ford 400 and his 7th Sprint Cup Series Championship during the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead FL. Photo by Andrew Coppley/Harold Hinson Photography

Jimmie Johnson got his first ever win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and grabbed the seventh Sprint Cup Series Championship of his career. Photo by Andrew Coppley/Harold Hinson Photography

Once the green flag dropped, the No. 48 was picking off cars one by one. And by Lap 30, he was in the top 10. Still, Johnson was behind fellow title contenders Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano for most of the race.

“Oh, my gosh, there is no, no way on earth,” Johnson said. “Just beyond words. Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. Chad called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs.

Johnson’s big break came with 10 laps to go when Logano shot deep to the inside in an attempt to pass Edwards for the lead. Edwards, trying to protect his position, blocked Logano. And it resulted in a nine-car wreck that ended Edwards’ title bid.

That’s when Johnson got the track position he needed and kept it after a red flag that lasted a little over 30 minutes.

“Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship. So grateful for the opportunity, and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”

Johnson led just three laps as he notched win No. 80, his first at the 1.5-mile track.

“They were nowhere all day, and just kind of ran around,” said Kyle Busch, who finished third in the championship race.

“I don’t know, probably. I’d guess sixth but never really showed their hand at all and really didn’t show any speed, never really led in the laps until the last one, and that’s the only one that really matters.”

Johnson definitely earned title No. 7 to join the elite company. And the fans aren’t the only ones showing their appreciation. The garage area, too.

“Yeah, the respect from peers is truly one of the things that has always motivated me and has always hit me the deepest through my racing career, even back when you’re a young kid at a local track and one of the local stars of the track, like hey, good job, I saw what you did,” he said.

“I can remember feelings then, and it’s the same feeling today.”

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