Long: Jimmie Johnson’s championship wasn’t about history but family

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — This wasn’t about history. It was about family.

Fathers and sons.

On a night when NASCAR celebrated Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship, the festive mood obscured tears, moments of reflection and pride for Johnson’s father, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Rick Hendrick.

Gary Johnson bubbled after watching his son tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. in series championships. Only a night before, Gary Johnson was in tears.

Before Jimmie Johnson tied history, he sat down and texted his mom, dad, brothers and a close friend.

The notes were similar. The 41-year-old Johnson thanked his dad for all the years of taking him racing, beginning at age 5 when Johnson raced motocross.

The notes were striking not only in the message but that they were sent.

“It was so weird because he had never done that before,’’ Gary Johnson said while his son celebrated.

It was so special that it made him cry.

“I just wanted those five to know that I was thankful for the love and support that they’ve given me over the years,’’ Jimmie Johnson said.

After the tears, his father responded to the text.

“Yooow!’’

It was that howl Johnson heard throughout his racing career, starting in motocross.

“I could always tell where he was on the racetrack because I could hear him scream that,’’ Johnson said.

When Johnson was 7, his father didn’t have to yell very loud. He was beside his son as Johnson won his first racing championship.

A motocross wreck injured Johnson’s knee and he had reconstructive surgery on his birthday. He had to compete in one more race to win the title. So with a cast on, Johnson sought to run one lap to earn the point he needed to clinch the championship. His father ran beside him as Johnson slowly toured the course. When the field came by to lap him, Johnson pulled over. Then he resumed the lap. Once complete, he was a champion.

That experience laid the groundwork for a driver known for his mental toughness and ability to overcome challenging situations, including Sunday when his car often lagged behind title contenders Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano throughout the 268-lap race.

“Most people in the situation we were in would crumble and he didn’t waver,’’ crew chief Chad Knaus said.

Johnson knows what it is like to struggle. He had modest success in what is now the Xfinity Series, yet impressed Jeff Gordon with how he raced, leading Gordon to recommend Johnson for a ride with Hendrick Motorsports when it sought to expand its Sprint Cup operation.

A driver who won only one Xfinity race shocked the sport by winning five consecutive championships from 2006-10. Johnson added a sixth in 2013 and then came Sunday night.

Among those who celebrated Johnson’s feat was Dale Earnhardt Jr. He beamed, despite a sinus infection, at what his friend had done.

“It’s really emotional for me,’’ Earnhardt said. “I just wish dad was here to see it, shake Jimmie’s hand. I really wish dad could have met Jimmie. There’s things that happen in this sport that you wish dad was a witness to and this is definitely one of them.’’

For those who were there, it was an emotional end. Johnson’s path to a title seemed stymied until Carl Edwards’ block of Joey Logano sent Edwards into the wall and damaged Logano’s car. That put Johnson fourth on a restart with five laps go. Busch restarted third.

A caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s incident created the final restart. Busch pitted for tires. Johnson restarted second, on the bottom of the front row, with Logano behind him.

As they took the green flag for the last time in 2016, Johnson shot to the lead with what he called “the restart of my life.’’

He pulled away. Suddenly Johnson was about to reach his quest for seven titles. Since 2014, Johnson has used the hashtag #se7en to denote his quest for the record-tying title. The unique way of writing it came from car owner Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky, who was killed in plane crash in 2004 on the way to a race at Martinsville Speedway.

Ricky Hendrick had a small 7 tattooed on his back and he often spelled se7en that way. To honor Ricky Hendrick, Johnson adopted that as his slogan on Twitter.

As he approached the checkered flag, Ricky Hendrick was not far from Johnson’s thoughts.

“Jimmie said to me when I walked up to the window,’’ Rick Hendrick said, “ ‘I was praying, talking to Ricky the last three laps.’

“I love Jimmie and all of our guys always willing to pay tribute to Ricky. I think family is so important to all of us. It means so much that he always thinks about him. Nothing makes us more proud than how he uses that se7en.’’

After exiting his car Sunday, Johnson’s celebration began. Then he found his dad.

They hugged.

Then son said to father: “It’s so awesome!’’

Kyle, Kurt Busch compete in first day of Race of Champions exhibition

DOVER, DE - MAY 30:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, left, talks with brother Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 30, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
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Kurt and Kyle Busch are in Miami this weekend to take part in the international auto racing competition, Race of Champions. The exhibition event is two days and pits drivers from every major auto racing league against each other.

The Busch brothers are the only NASCAR representatives in the competition. They are joined multiple Formula One drivers, Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alexander Rossi, Ryan-Hunter Reay, James Hinchciffe and Tony Kanaan and action sports star Travis Pastrana. Prior to the start of the races, all of the drivers got psyched up together.

And right before the event began, Kurt Busch showed off his new No. 41 Monster Energy Ford by doing donuts in the middle of the race course.

But when it came time to race Kurt Busch’s had a tough day. He and former Formula One driver David Coulthard competed in the vehicles used in the NASCAR Euro Series and Coulthard crossed the finish line with a healthy lead over the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.

Kyle Busch was marginally better in his first race against F1 driver Jenson Button, who won but with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver right at Button’s rear wheel.

But Kyle Busch bounced back in his second race and defeated Hinchcliffe, which advanced him out of the first round. But he was eliminated from the competition when he was swept by Coulthard in the next round.

In Kurt Busch’s second race, he faced Hunter-Reay, who was one of his teammates when he competed in the 2014 Indianapolis 500. Busch won, but he wasn’t able to advance to the next round.

The competition was eventually won by Montoya, who is taking part in the Race of Champions for the first time.

Both Busch brothers will be back on Sunday to compete for the Nations Cup.

Kyle Busch entered into SRL Winter Showdown Super Late Model race

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2016 in Joliet, Illinois. Busch is seen here wearing his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fire suit.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Kyle Busch is entered into the third annual SRL Winter Showdown, a Super Late Model race at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

Busch, who is competing in the Race of Champions this weekend in Miami, will drive the No. 51 Toyota Camry sponsored by JBL in the Feb. 11 race.

Busch and his competitors will be trying to claim the $30,000 prize for winning the race. Kyle Busch Motorsports had a presence in last year’s Showdown when Todd Gilliland competed for the team.

“They have a pretty strong field lined up again this year with Bubba Pollard coming back and trying to make it three-in-a-row. And then you add in some of the West Coast guys like Derek Thorn, David Mayhew and Noah Gragson, who will be running one of my trucks full-time this season, and it has a lot of great drivers,” Busch told Speed51.com. “One of the things that is going to be really cool is that this will be the first time that Erik Jones and I get to race against each other in the supers since he beat me in the Snowball Derby back in 2013.”

Busch is quite successful in his Super Late Model career, having won the Snowball Derby, CRA SpeedFest, the Oxford 250, the Winchester 400 and the Battle at Berlin in recent years.

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Social Roundup: 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 20:  NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees (L-R)Richard Childress, Mark Martin, and Rick Hendrick pose for a portrait prior to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017 Induction Ceremony at NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 20, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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Last night, the NASCAR Hall of Fame inducted its eighth class, including Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Mark Martin, Benny Parsons and Raymond Parks.

The night was filled with current and future Hall of Famers celebrating the history of the sport and the lives of the five inductees.

MORE: Benny Parsons’ Hall of Fame induction an emotional celebration

MORE: Mark Martin went from a “broken man” to a Hall of Famer

Here’s a look at how the night played out on social media with observations on the inductees from current NASCAR drivers and one message from future NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.

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‘Only in America’: Richard Childress cherishes Hall of Fame induction (Video)

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CHARLOTTE — Richard Childress traced his Dickensian rise from humble beginnings to six championships in NASCAR’s premier series during his Hall of Fame induction speech Friday.

Childress, who grew up in poverty in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, won six championships in NASCAR’s premier series with fellow high school dropout Dale Earnhardt. After starting as an independent driver-owner who never won in a dogged career from 1968-81, Childress switched to focusing solely on running a team.

His grandson, Austin Dillon, now drives the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing that Earnhardt made famous.

“Only in America could a kid selling peanuts and popcorn at Bowman Gray Stadium have a dream of becoming a race driver some day,” Childress said. “And then he goes out and buys him an old ’47 Plymouth (and) pays $20 for it — that was the best investment I ever made — and have a dream of being a NASCAR driver some day, be standing up here tonight to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.  Only in America.  What a great country we live in.”

During his speech, Childress made several references to a wall he’d like to put in the stock-car museum to signify all those who paved the way for his success.

“I’d like to put a 10‑foot by 20‑foot granite wall with thousands of names etched in it that’s helped me all along the way to get here tonight,” he said. “I can’t thank you all, but I want to put you on a great granite wall to where I can thank you for getting us up here.

“But on that granite wall, the first thing would be my family.  My wife Judy, my daughter Tina, my son‑in‑law, Mike Dillon, grandson Ty and his wife Haley, she’s here tonight.  Grandson Austin and his fiancé, Whitney Ward.  I couldn’t have done it without you all’s support.  We are a NASCAR racing family.”