November 23- – Jimmie Johnson captured an unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR Cup series title with a 5th place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports took the top three spots in the points standings as Mark Martin finished 2nd in points, followed by Jeff Gordon.
Gordon started 20th at Homestead and gained five spots in the opening five laps of the race. He entered the top-10 on lap 15 due to Marcos Abrose’s unscheduled pit stop. Gordon ran as high as 9th before Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed to send him back to 10th on lap 39. Gordon came to pit road for a green flag pit stop on lap 54. After pit stops, Gordon ran in the 8th position.
The adjustments made by crew chief Steve Letarte helped Gordon through the corners and he moved up to 6th on lap 60. The first caution waved on lap 81 for Marcos Ambrose’s spin. Gordon came to pit road for tires and restarted in 7th place. However, on the restart he slipped back while complaining of a possible tire issue. He fell to 17th by lap 90, but regrouped to 15th ten laps later. A caution for John Andretti’s cut tire on lap 102 brought out the caution flag. Gordon ran in 15th over the next 15 laps before a caution for Juan Pablo Montoya’s cut tire on lap 120 following an ego clash with Tony Stewart. Gordon stayed on the track during the caution flag and moved up to 7th for the restart.
On lap 156, Montoya exacted a dose of revenge by spinning Stewart coming off turn four. After the caution flag, Gordon made it 3-wide coming down the frontstretch and took the 5th position from Kevin Harvick on lap 165. Ten laps later, Harvick and Jimmie Johnson passed to put Gordon back to 7th spot. Gordon complained of a lack of grip and slipped back to 9th on lap 180. Robby Gordon’s spin on lap 194 brought out the caution and the lead lap cars came to pit road. Gordon’s pit crew sent him out in 6th place.
In the closing stages he ran within striking distance of Kurt Busch in the battle for third in the Cup series points standings. Johnson took a position with 18 laps to go as Gordon ran in 7th place. He moved up to 6th at the checkered flag and finished the season 3rd in the points standings.
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A DIFFICULT NIGHT, BUT A GOOD ONE JUST THE SAME FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS
“No, it was. Our thoughts certainly are going out to Rick (Hendrick) and his family right now. I know how much he’d like to be here. I know how much family means to him. So we just want to let him know, congratulations, and that we’re certainly thinking of him. I know how proud he is to be one-two-three. I know how much it meant to him. He kept sending me texts and calling me and everything all week long going, ‘We really need that one-two-three!’ (laughs). So he put a little pressure on me and this team that I don’t think we were really thinking about other than just trying to come here and win. And so that did put a little extra pressure on us. And then what can you say about Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus and all the guys at the Lowe’s Chevrolet team. I never thought I’d see anybody win four in a row. And who’s to say they won’t go win five in a row next season? We’re really proud of them. I know as a member of Hendrick Motorsports it’s an honor to see our organization excel like that. And it takes all the people; everybody out there to make it happen. And I’ve got to say thanks to the fans. It’s been a great year. We really appreciate everything that the fans have done for the sport this year.”
HOW SPECIAL IS THE FEAT THE NO. 48 TEAM PULLED OFF?
“Man, you know, they’re just good. As a group, as a total group, they’re just good. And that’s what you see when you see championship caliber teams. You see them come together as one and all working in the same direction with a lot of confidence in each other. And you can say oh, well, things went their way. Well things go your way when you’ve got a good race car and when you have good pit stops and when the driver and the crew chief are communicating and doing their jobs well. It just trickles on down. And those guys have done it better than anybody else. I think more than four years, to be honest with you, because I think they’ve been the best team probably the last six years. It just took them a couple of years to figure out how to win that championship. Once they figured that out, whew, man, watch out. And as a competitor it’s a little bit frustrating as well as inspiring for us to try to figure out how we could go out there and win a championship for ourselves. But right now we’re just going to enjoy this moment being one-two-three and those guys winning four in a row and go into the off-season with something to smile about and a lot of work left ahead of us.”
ON JIMMIE JOHNSON WINNING FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS IN A ROW
“I never ever thought I’d see it done, to be honest with you. I think it’s absolutely incredible and I think it’s something that I don’t know if I’ll see in my lifetime ever happening again. But they’ve shown that it’s possible and they’ve also shown just how good they are and that’s why they’re where they’re at. It’s quite a feat.”
YOU AND RICK HENDRICK ARE NOW CAR OWNERS WITH FOUR IN A ROW, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?
“Yeah, I just don’t look at it that way because I’m still so focused on driving . And I’m still biased to the No. 24 team as a driver. But I’m very fortunate that Rick (Hendrick) has made me a part of the organization the way he has and I’m thankful for that. And I’m happy to share in that success.”
AS A CAR OWNER, HOW CONCERNED WERE YOU THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON MIGHT BE TAKEN OUT WHEN JUAN PABLO MONTOYA AND TONY STEWART WERE MESSING IT UP?
“I had no idea what was going on around those guys or how close it was. I was so focused on our own race.”
YOU’VE MESSED IT UP WITH JUAN YOURSELF A LITTLE BIT. WAS HE JUST AGGRESSIVE?
“Juan is aggressive. He’s a great driver and I think that sometimes he tries to show a little bit too much to people that he’s not going to get pushed around or taken advantage of. In this series, sometimes you’ve got to know when to back off and when to push somebody’s buttons and when not to; and who. I think he found out tonight.”
TONY STEWART IS OBVIOUSLY THE SAME WAY
“That’s my point. You’ve got to recognize who you can get into those battles with. And sometimes some guys are going to surprise you and other times it’s just guys you don’t do that with. If you want to get the best finish you can possibly get, not getting into it with somebody is the way to do it. Sometimes you might look a little nonaggressive by doing it that way, but in the long run, that’s what gets you to the end of the race and get’s you maximum points by the end of the day. I think Mark Martin is a perfect example of it. You don’t see him pushing and shoving and causing controversy and he’s one of the best drivers out there. And I think that Mark is the kind of guy when somebody runs him down and is better than him, he lets them go. But when his car is good, he expects the same from you.”
YOUR CAR WAS GOOD EARLY ON AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?
“When the sun went down we just really struggled. We were really loose. And we tried to fix it but all we did was make the middle tight. We finished sixth. We finished third in the points. We did what we had to so, but it wasn’t real pretty.”
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THIRD IN THE POINTS OR ARE YOU HAPPY THAT HENDRICK WAS ONE-TWO-THREE?
“I’m happy that we’re one-two-three, but I want to be No. 1. My team wants to be number one. We’ve got to try to figure out how to get that.”