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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My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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