Jimmie Johnson earns record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship

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Joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with the most championships by a driver, Jimmie Johnson earned his record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship while also winning Sunday’s 2016 season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

As for the other Championship 4 drivers, Joey Logano finished fourth, 2015 champion Kyle Busch was sixth and Carl Edwards, victimized in a late wreck, wound up 34th.

Johnson, whose prior championships were in 2006 through 2010 and also 2013, led only the final three laps to become part of NASCAR history. It was also his fifth win of the 2016 season and third triumph in the last seven Chase races.

Johnson’s 80th career Sprint Cup win was also his first win in 16 starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The only active tracks that he has not won at drops to three: Chicago, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.

Johnson was forced to start the race from the rear of the field when his car failed to pass pre-race inspection. It was the third time in Johnson’s career that he started from the back and went on to victory. The other two times were both at Charlotte in June 2003 and October 2005.

“For some reason, I just felt good and calm today and things just kind of unfolded at the end for us, along with help from above,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “In my heart, I wanted to believe it would happen and it has.”

Runner-up Kyle Larson led the most laps (132), while 2014 champ and third-place finisher Kevin Harvick led 79 laps. The race was scheduled for 267 laps, but due to a late caution involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr., was extended into overtime for a total of 268 laps.

The rest of the top-10 of the final race of the 2016 season were Jamie McMurray (fifth), Matt Kenseth (seventh), AJ Allmendinger (eighth), Denny Hamlin (ninth) and Michael McDowell (10th).

Larson led at the midpoint (134 laps) of the scheduled 267-lap event.

MORE: Click for full results and stats.

MORE: CLick here for the final 2016 point standings.

Five years to the date, it was the second time that Edwards once again fell short of winning the championship. Edwards lost the 2011 title to Tony Stewart on a tie-breaker (Stewart had more wins than Edwards that season).

Sunday, on a restart with 10 laps to go and Edwards at the front of the field, he tried to block Logano, who did not lift off the gas pedal. The pair made contact, sending Edwards spinning and into the wall. The race was red-flagged at that point, lasting 31 minutes, 9 seconds.

“I pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there,” Edwards told NBC Sports. “I could feel him a little, which was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I’d clear him or force him to lift. He drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down and that’s how it ended.”

Edwards lamented losing his second chance at a championship, adding, “Everybody did a good job and it didn’t work out. This is life. We performed well. We did our best. I just risked too much. … I had to push it. I couldn’t go to bed tonight thinking that I gave him that length.”

Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Regan Smith and Martin Truex Jr. were all collected in the Edwards-Logano wreck. Truex’s car erupted in heavy fire but he was able to get out of the car as safety crews arrived on the scene.

Two drivers made the final start of their Sprint Cup careers.

Three-time champion Tony Stewart finished 22nd in his 618th career Cup start, which also came on the fifth anniversary to the date of his final Sprint Cup championship in 2011. It was also the final race under the Chevrolet banner for the Stewart-Haas Racing organization; it switches to Ford for 2017.

Meanwhile, Brian Scott, who announced last week that he would retire after his first and full-time Cup season after six full seasons in the Nationwide Series, finished 15th.

It was also the final race after nine years with Sprint as the series entitlement sponsor. A new series sponsor, still unannounced, will assume the entitlement role for the 2017 season.

HOW JOHNSON WON: Johnson bided his time, letting the race come to him. He was in the right place at the right time when he needed to be, leading the final three laps to capture the win and championship.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Kyle Larson led the most laps and looked like he might win his second career Sprint Cup race until Johnson passed him on the final restart. … Having some of their best finishes of the season were Jamie McMurray (fifth), AJ Allmendinger (eighth) and Michael McDowell (10th).

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Carl Edwards’ second bid for a championship once again came up short, this time due to a wreck with Joey Logano with 10 laps left. … Also involved in that wreck and suffering poor finishes were Brad Keselowski (35th), Martin Truex Jr. (36th), Kasey Kahne (37th) and Regan Smith (38th).

NOTABLE: This was the first time Johnson had reached the final round of the Chase since the new format instituted in 2014. It was also 10 years and one day after Johnson earned his first Sprint Cup championship on Nov. 19, 2006, also at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There is no way on Earth (that he ever thought he’d win seven Sprint Cup championships). I’m just beyond words and didn’t think the race was unfolding for us to be the champs, but we kept our heads in the game. Some luck came our way and we were able to win the race.” – 2016 Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2017 NASCAR Sprint Cup season begins on Feb. 26 with the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

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Darlington celebrates NASCAR’s 70th birthday by revealing 4th throwback weekend details

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Darlington Raceway on Thursday celebrated the 70th birthday of NASCAR in a big way, announcing details for the fourth annual NASCAR throwback weekend.

The track revealed the 2018 edition of the throwback weekend will celebrate “Seven Decades of NASCAR,” to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at the legendary 1.366-mile track.

The weekend will include the Cup Series’ Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the Xfinity Series’ Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

NASCAR held its first of several organizational meetings on Dec. 14, 1947, at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. That ultimately led to the official formation of NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948.

The throwback weekend will honor and feature highlights of some of the biggest moments in the sport’s history over its first 70 years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Darlington Raceway and the NASCAR industry to celebrate the sport over a seven decade period during our 2018 throwback weekend,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said in a media release.

“We have been era specific the past three years,” Tharp added, “so we felt it was important to recognize the 70th anniversary of NASCAR with our ‘Seven Decades of NASCAR’ celebration next season and give the teams, sanctioning body and others a wider brush to paint a picture capturing memorable moments we might not have celebrated in year’s past.”

Memorable moments to be celebrated include several that took place at Darlington itself, including Ned Jarrett’s record-setting 14-lap victory in the 1965 Southern 500, Ricky Craven’s record-setting photo finish win over Kurt Busch in 2003, and Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 Southern 500 win, which gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory, among others.

Cup winners of the first three throwback weekends have been Carl Edwards (2015), Martin Truex Jr. (2016) and Denny Hamlin (2017).

As has been the case for the first three throwback weekends, the track will once again issue commemorative tickets for the Southern 500.

“We have produced commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program, which is an important part of our platform,” Tharp said. “We appreciate how much the fans have supported Darlington Raceway and want them to walk away from our weekend with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport.”

Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway

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Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.

McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.

The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.

McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Last Ride’ diecast is Lionel Racing’s bestselling ever

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has set a new benchmark for Lionel Racing’s most purchased diecast in its 25-year history.

Lionel Racing, NASCAR’s official diecast producer, has announced that the diecast of Earnhardt’s “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup season finale last month is now its bestselling diecast in company history.

The “Last Ride” car is based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet that Earnhardt drove in his rookie Cup season in 2000.

The previous bestseller was another Earnhardt diecast, for his 2014 Daytona 500 win.

Lionel Racing says that QVC’s “For Race Fans Only” show that featured Earnhardt and unveiled the car helped contribute to sales. But even without QVC, sales of the “Last Ride” diecast outpaced the 2014 Daytona 500 diecast by more than 10,000 units.

“The demand for this car has been simply astounding,” Lionel Racing President Howard Hitchcock said on the company’s website. “The fan response to this diecast is a true measure of how much Earnhardt has meant to both casual NASCAR fans and serious diecast collectors.”

Lionel Racing has also revealed the top-10 selling diecasts for the year, which you can find below. Earnhardt has six cars on the list. Chase Elliott has two and Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney each have one.

Casey Mears likely to split 2018 between NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks

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Casey Mears still plans to compete part-time in NASCAR in 2018, but he’s also looking to expand his racing horizons.

The veteran NASCAR driver told The Checkered Flag recently that he also expects to race in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, as well as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series.

“Right now I’m talking to a few NASCAR programs to do maybe limited stuff,” Mears told The Checkered Flag. “I don’t have anything that would be a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

“I’ve been speaking with Robby Gordon in the Stadium Super Truck program. I think that’s a really cool up-and-coming-series and I’d definitely like to be involved with the GRC. It looks like a lot of fun.

“I think there’s enough difference between all those that it could leave room for doing a bit of both so we’ll see how it works out.”

Mears did not race in the Cup Series in 2017, having lost his ride at the end of 2016 to Ty Dillon in the No. 13 Geico Chevy. He has amassed 488 starts and one win (2007 Coca-Cola 600) in his Cup career, along with 13 top fives and 51 top 10s.

However, he did compete on a part-time basis in 2017 in the Xfinity Series, making 14 starts, with season-best finishes of ninth place at both Richmond and Road America. He also has 107 Xfinity starts with one win, 16 top fives and 34 top 10s.