Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt; the two drivers who had earned seven Sprint Cup championships before Sunday. The question had been asked for quite sometime, will anyone ever achieve the feat again?
At the conclusion of Sunday night’s Sprint Cup finale race at Homestead-Miami, Jimmie Johnson added himself to that list.
The sports world has witnessed some spectacular history-making moments in 2016. From the Cleveland Cavaliers capturing their first NBA title, to the Chicago Cubs taking home their first World Series championship in 108 years – it would seem as if the sport’s gods wouldn’t have any more special moments left to share with the world. But as Johnson drove off Turn 4 on the last lap of the 2016 season-finale event, history books were being rewritten once again.
Johnson entered Sunday’s championship race with a lot of pressure and attention floating around him. In 22 years of racing, since Earnhardt captured his seventh championship in 1994, people had been left wondering if anyone will ever be able to accomplish such a feat again. After already accomplishing six championships (2006-2010, plus 2013), Johnson was finally able to answer those questions on Sunday as he racked up his seventh.
“Proud, thankful, blessed,” said Johnson post-race. “As we all know, we all started racing because we love this sport. Our families are involved, it’s what we do. I never dreamt of being famous, never wanted to be famous, I only wanted to be a champion. I just wanted to race. Then to have everything that’s transpired to what it has today, and to be here and to tie those two legends, it’s surreal. Amazing. I’m just so honored to be here to be honest, I can’t really put it into words.”
Not only did Johnson win the championship, but he also won took home the checkered flag in the race. In 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons, Johnson has posted 80 career wins – the most among active drivers. Johnson is also the only driver who has won championships in each of three different Chase formats.
“I’m just beyond words,” said Johnson after the race. “I didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed it to give us a chance. Chad Knaus (crew chief) called a great strategy and made some great adjustments for this short run. Some luck came our way, and we were able to win the race and the championship.”
Praises and congratulations for Johnson were flooding in from all around the sport. The El Cajon, CA native’s seventh championship is one of the most impressive accomplishments not only in NASCAR, but in all of sports.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. congratulated Johnson after the race in Victory Lane, along with sending out a congratulatory tweet. The tweet read, “Happy for @JimmieJohnson. I wish dad (Dale Earnhardt) was here to shake his hand. Woulda been awesome to see that.”
The other driver that Johnson tied, Richard Petty, shared his comments after the race Sunday night.
“Records are a mark and they set something for everyone to shoot at. Jimmie and his team have done that tonight. They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality. They did what they needed to do and now they are at seven championships. Congratulations to him and his team.”
Johnson’s championship was the 12th for his team owner Rick Hendrick, who was elated with the joy of victory on Sunday night.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Hendrick. “To see him tie Richard and Dale, it’s unbelievable. I’m still in shock. I think it’s going to sink in later tonight. We are so proud of him. To do it through all these different formats, it’s been so special. What a great representative of the sport.”
Everyone who was tuned into Sunday night’s race was able to partake-in and witness history being made, and for Johnson and the entire NASCAR world, this is a evening that no one will soon forget.