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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Social Roundup: JR Nation reacts to Alex Bowman taking over the No. 88

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It’s official. Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet in 2018.

Now that the news is out, it’s time for the Internet to react.

This is one of the few times where we’ll encourage you to read the comments.

Below, after Hendrick’s tweet announcing Bowman’s appointment to the No. 88 and Bowman’s reaction, are reactions from social media.

Brace yourself.

 

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Nationwide returning to No. 88 car, Axalta adding more races with hiring of Alex Bowman

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Nationwide will return as a sponsor of the No. 88 car next year with Alex Bowman taking over the ride for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday.

The team also announced that Axalta will sponsor the car in 15 races, an increase of two from this season. Axalta’s contract goes through the 2018 season. Axalta has been with Hendrick Motorsports since 1992 and a sponsor of the No. 88 car since 2016.

“Our relationship with Nationwide is unbelievable,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “They have a true passion for NASCAR and our fans, and to have them extend with us is gratifying for our whole team. It’s also a credit to the way Alex carried himself last season and built lasting relationships. We’re fortunate to work with partners like Nationwide and Axalta that have built impactful, enduring programs around the countless opportunities our sport provides.”

Nationwide’s contract was to have expired after this season. The company is serving as the primary sponsor for Earnhardt in 21 races this season.

Nationwide joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2014 as a corporate partner and became a majority sponsor of the No. 88 Chevrolet and Earnhardt in 2015.

“We are thrilled to continue our relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and welcome Alex to the No. 88 Nationwide team,” said Terrance Williams, chief marketing officer at Nationwide, in a release from Hendrick Motorsports. “Rick Hendrick and the No. 88 team have been exceptional partners for the last three years, and we look forward to our joint commitment and engagement with the NASCAR community, both on and off the track.”

Hendrick Motorsports announced in January 2016 that Mountain Dew would serve as a primary sponsor of Earnhardt’s car for three races through 2018 while also serving as a primary sponsor for Chase Elliott’s car in two races annually and Kasey Kahne’s car for one race per year.

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Alex Bowman to take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car in 2018

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Alex Bowman, once told by a doctor that he couldn’t race for eight weeks after a severe crash but returned in half that time, saw his patience for sitting out this NASCAR season rewarded Thursday when Hendrick Motorsports announced that the 24-year-old will take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Cup ride next season.

“Ever since I was a kid, racing is all I’ve wanted to do,” Bowman said in a release from Hendrick Motorsports. “I’ve had so many people believe in me along the way. My family has sacrificed a lot and always been behind me. I would never have this chance without the support of Dale and everyone involved with the No. 88 team. To be part of Hendrick Motorsports and for Mr. (Rick) Hendrick to have this confidence in me, it’s just amazing.’’

Hendrick Motorsports also announced Thursday that Nationwide signed a one-year extension and will sponsor the car for 19 races. Axalta returns and will be the primary sponsor for 15 races, an increase of two from this season.

Bowman was among the favorites for Earnhardt’s ride because he drove 10 races in the No. 88 car last year while Earnhardt recovered from concussion symptoms. Bowman won a pole at Phoenix Raceway and had three top-10 finishes.

His performance last year earned praise from within Hendrick Motorsports.

“Alex impressed the heck out of us last year with his talent, poise and professionalism,” said car owner Rick Hendrick, in a statement from the team. “He stepped up in a very demanding situation and showed that he can run with the best and compete for wins. His ability to stay focused through it all, and the way he’s handled himself since then, has shown a lot of character. (Crew chief Greg Ives) and the team loved working with Alex, and that dynamic will get even better with more time together.

Earnhardt, who is in his final full-time season racing Cup, endorsed Bowman as the next driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet on Periscope in May.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Alex Bowman at Texas last year when Bowman drove 10 races while Earnhardt recovered from concussion symptoms. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“Alex Bowman in the 88 car next year, is that what you want?’’ Earnhardt said on Periscope a day after the All-Star Race. “That would be pretty awesome. Alex in the 88. That sounds good to me. He earned it last year. He ran real good.”

Bowman’s hire adds another young driver to the Cup series — which already features nearly one-fifth of the starting lineup age 25 or younger.

His path to this ride comes in an unusual way. Rarely do drivers sitting out for an extended period of time get quality rides, let alone join one of the sport’s top organizations.

Bowman, who signed with Hendrick Motorsports in Oct. 2016, has only raced in the Clash in February — earning that spot for his pole at Phoenix last year — and a Camping World Truck race in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His primary duty has been as driver in the Chevrolet simulator and driving Chevrolet’s car at NASCAR-allowed tests.

His work in the Chevy simulator has been praised by his future teammates.

“We put a lot on him now,” Jimmie Johnson said last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I think he’d be a great fit to come in that car from a wide variety of angles.”

Bowman made his debut in the No. 88 car last July at New Hampshire after having run 71 Cup races for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing from 2014-15.

“When I look at how he stepped in seamlessly, it was really impressive for me,” Johnson said of Bowman’s performance in the No. 88 last year. “He handled the pressure, won a pole, was up there duking it out for race wins, had a heated moment or two with some of the veterans and wasn’t rattled.

“We all watched him evolve. You drive for a lower level team and unfortunately, people’s opinion about you can change. That cloud or stigma was there for a while, and he had a chance to reset the deck when he drove the 88. I think he’s plenty capable. He’s been a great teammate. He knows our system.”

While Bowman is most noted for running 10 races last year for Earnhardt, he has been tied to Earnhardt since 2014.

Bowman ran two Xfinity races for JR Motorsports in 2014 and returned to run nine races for the organization in 2016.

Bowman’s path to this point has been one full of gambles in a sport where few succeed. His father put a second mortgage on the home to fund Bowman’s racing and saw his used car dealership close during the economic downturn.

Bowoman’s racing started when his father got him a quarter midget at age 7. Bowman went on to collect nine quarter-midget national championships before he moved to race midgets.

He was the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year in 2009 but a crash the next year at the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway put his season in jeopardy. His midget tumbled several times. He cracked ribs, broke his collarbones and damaged blood vessels in his eyes. He was unable to see for three days because his eyes were swollen shut. When his vision returned, it was blurry. Eventually his vision returned.

Even with both arms in a sling, he wanted to race as soon as possible. Told it would be eight weeks at the earliest, Bowman said he had a race in three weeks. Bowman returned in four weeks.

He’s been focused on racing since — even with the decision to turn down rides this year to be aligned with Hendrick Motorsports even though there wasn’t a ride for him.

Beginning next year, he’ll be out of the simulator and back on the track.

“The No. 88 team is such a great group of people,’’ Bowman said in a release from the team. “I know we can pick up where we left off last year, and I truly believe we can win races and contend for a championship. I’m excited to build on the relationship with Nationwide and all of our partners. It means the world that they have faith in me, and I’m thankful to have them on my side. Now I just want to go win.”

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Brett Moffitt joins GMS Racing for Xfinity Series race at Iowa

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Brett Moffitt, the 2015 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, will join GMS Racing for the July 29 Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway.

A native of Grimes, Iowa, Moffitt will drive the team’s No. 96 Chevrolet, which has been driven by Ben Kennedy in four starts this year.

It will be Moffitt’s first Xfinity start of the year and just the second of his career.

His first came in 2012 at Iowa for Robby Benton.

The race will be Moffitt’s first NASCAR action since making five starts for Red Horse Racing in the Truck Series to start the year before the team shut down.

“I am really excited to be racing in my home state again,” Moffitt said in a press release. “I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity with GMS Racing and I’m very grateful of the support that the Iowa community has shown and put in to support this race. It would be really awesome to bring home a solid finish in front of my hometown fans.”

Moffitt earned his first NASCAR win last year with Red Horse Racing at Michigan International Speedway.