Win Kevin S Car
November 26, 2009 by USA Post
For 41 drivers this was just another race; Race for the win, or the best finishing position possible.
But for Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin this was the race that would place one of them into the record books. Either Johnson would grab an unheard of, never-before-done, 4th consecutive Championship, or Martin would become the first driver over 50 to ever win one. Martin’s goal was to get up front, lead the most laps, win the race… and then hope that the 48 team had ran into some trouble along the way. Johnson just had to focus on finishing 25th or better and then it wouldn’t matter what Martin did.
As the green flag waved, polesitter Jimmie Johnson, was able to maintain the 1st position, immediately adding another five points to his collection.
Marcos Ambrose wanted to finish the season on a high note and knew that he had the car to do it with. But it wasn’t about to turn out as he hoped. After qualifying a solid 3rd, Ambrose was already on Johnson’s back bumper just 8 laps into the race. He had the faster car, and moments later, Ambrose found himself as the race leader. The joy of it was short lived however, as just four laps later the 47 had a tire going down. Johnson was able to get back around him for the lead and Ambrose was forced to pit under green, causing him to fall a lap down.
But meanwhile, Tony Stewart was charging towards the front. He quickly checked off three cars, before closing in on Johnson and getting around him for the lead on lap 33.
This year has been really tough on Richard Childress Racing. After having all three of their cars make the Chase in 2008, none made it in this year, and the 2009 season ended winless for the team. But in recent weeks RCR had begun to show improvements, and hope for the coming year, as they’ve started to check off more consistent finishes.
Shortly after Stewart took the lead, green-flag pit stops began. Once everyone had cycled through, RCR driver, Clint Bowyer, held the lead, but his teammate, Kevin Harvick was right behind him. Bowyer’s car was no match for the Pennzoil Chevy, and Harvick grabbed the lead.
In the meantime, Mark Martin was making little progress towards the Championship. He and Johnson were battling side-by-side for the forth position, and Martin had yet to lead a lap. However, it was still light outside and Martin claimed before the race that his car wouldn’t be good until the sun had set and the track changed. There was still plenty of time for him to move forward and for something to happen to Johnson.
That ‘something’ almost happened when the fourth caution of the day came out. Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya were racing right behind Johnson for the 6th position when the two made contact, cutting a tire on Montoya’s car. Stewart then slid up in front on the 42 car, before the tire eventually gave away. As the caution flew for Montoya and pit –road opened, Jimmie Johnson headed in… but to his surprise, hardly anyone followed him.
Suddenly Johnson was mired way back in the 23rd position… but fortunately for him, out of the few cars that did come in and pit, Mark Martin was one of them and was still two spots behind the 48 car. The last thing either one of these drivers wanted to do is be stuck deep in traffic, where they were more vulnerable to anything that happened on the track. 37 cars were still on the lead-lap and if anything happened, even a speeding penalty on pit-road, Johnson or Martin would be way back.
Kevin Harvick led Denny Hamlin, along with Kurt and Kyle Busch to the green flag. Deep in the field, Johnson and Martin were struggling in the traffic as the 48 fell to the 26th position and Martin sat right behind him in 27th.
By lap 135 it was getting dark out and the track was beginning to change. Harvick was beginning to fade just a little while other drivers like Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin were getting stronger. Busch moved up to the top spot, and a short time later, Hamlin grabbed the 2nd position as Harvick fell to 3rd.
While Johnson was finally working his way back through the field, Martin was still mired in traffic, his car not handling like he had expected it to once the sun set. Time and any hope of winning this Championship was running out and the frustration could be heard in Martins voice as he radioed to his crew that there was just too much traffic for his car to handle well.
On lap 156 another caution flag waved. Juan Pablo Montoya had gone for payback after the earlier incident between him and Stewart, running into the 14 car and spinning him out. NASCAR called Montoya in for aggressive driving and held him for 2 laps. Pit stops began and once everyone had cycled through, Denny Hamlin came out as the leader.
Johnson was still back in 11th, with plenty of traffic to deal with and Sam Hornish Jr. at his side. Two weeks prior at Texas, Hornish got loose, running into Johnson and crashing him on the 3rd lap of the race. Memories of that were flashing in Johnson’s mind as frustration mounted and he was reminded that this Championship still wasn’t his yet. But unlike Texas, this time Johnson was able to get around the 77 and slide into the top 10. Mark Martin was still lurking behind Johnson in the 13th spot.
Back up front Kurt Busch was catching Hamlin and beginning to apply pressure for the lead, before eventually gaining the spot. Just 14 laps later the caution flag waved once again, and everyone headed down pit-road. When the green flag came back out, a doublewide restart took Jeff Burton to the lead and brought Kyle Busch to 2nd.
Still mired back in 15th, Mark Martin’s day was not getting any better. Jimmie Johnson had worked his way well into the top-ten, and Martin needed a miracle or two to have any hope for winning the Championship.
With just 54 laps remaining in the season finale race, Johnson had cracked the top-five, and up front, Jeff Burton had opened up a 2.3 second lead over Kurt Busch. The whole lead was blown away though, as the field went in for the final pit stops of the day. Kurt Busch gambled and took a two-tire stop, while everyone else took four. However, on the restart it was Kurt’s brother, Kyle, who took the lead. Denny Hamlin followed right behind him, pulling to his side and eventually passing the younger Busch.
From there on out, Hamlin never glanced back. He maintained a healthy lead until the very end, winning at Homestead for the first time in his career, along with giving Toyota their first victory at the track.
While Hamlin did a burnout and headed for Victory Lane to celebrate the win with his team, all eyes were on the 48 car. The one that just won the Championship – for the fourth year straight.
Mark Martin finished 12th, while the 48 ended the race 5th, allowing Johnson to easily win the Championship by 141 points.
So it was just before 6:40 pm EST., on November 22nd, 2009, Jimmie Johnson did something that no other driver has done in the 61-year history of NASCAR – not Dale Earnhardt, not Cale Yarborough, not even Richard Petty – by winning 4 consecutive Championships. And perhaps the scary thing for his competitors is that Johnson has only been driving for 8 years, never finishing worse that 5th in points, and he still has many more years ahead of him.
Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, also hit another big milestone by becoming the first owner to have drivers finish 1-2-3 in points, doing so with Johnson, Martin and Jeff Gordon. But due to a family emergency, Hendrick was home in North Carolina and unable to celebrate with the team.
So will Johnson succeed on the ‘Drive For Five’ next year? We can only wait and see… don’t count him out of it though. But no matter what else happens – Johnson will have a place in the record books forever with his unbelievable 4 consecutive Championships.
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