Carl Edwards did everything he could, but Jimmie Johnson made sure Edwards' best wasn't good enough.
Edwards led the most laps and won Sunday's Ford 400 Sprint Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to score his series-best ninth victory of the season, but Johnson claimed the big prize - his record-tying third straight Cup title - with a 15th-place finish that gave him a 69-point advantage over Edwards in the final standings.
Saving every drop of fuel he could, Edwards coasted across the finish line 7.548 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick, who also conserved fuel after his final pit stop on lap 201 of the 267-lap race. Jamie McMurray was third, followed by Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer.
Though Johnson's accomplishment comes in a different era and under a different scoring system from that used in Cale Yarborough's 1976-1978 run, the dominance of the #48 team has been arguably more difficult to achieve, given the heightened level of competition in today's Cup series.
Johnson solidified his legacy in typical fashion, with a huge assist from crew chief Chad Knaus, who got the #48 Chevy out front under caution on ;ap 201 with a two-tyre call in the pits. With Edwards and others trying to stretch fuel mileage to the limit, Knaus called Johnson to the pits for a splash of gas on lap 254 - just for security.
Johnson ended the season with seven victories - 22 total in his three championship seasons - and finished the year with 40 career wins, good for 15th on the all-time list.
“From the first lap on track I knew we had a car that was in the ballpark and a car that I could drive to the front with,” Johnson said. “I felt very, very good once the race started. There were a couple of points where it was dicey at times, but all in all, I really felt like I was in control of where this car was on the track.
“It's the ultimate reward. We worked so hard to put ourselves in this position. It is such a team sport. I can't thank Chad Knaus enough. I guess he's the first crew chief to win three in a row. It's total teamwork and dedication. I've got to commend Carl Edwards and the effort he and his team put forth. Those guys put a lot of pressure on us this year, and they're going to be a championship threat for years to come.”
Edwards, who also won seven Nationwide Series races this season and finished second to Clint Bowyer in that series championship, was equally gracious in congratulating Johnson.
“I don't know what to say,” Edwards said. “Second place in the championship isn't what we came here for, but Jimmie's a great guy, and he deserved to win. We got beat by a true champion.”
And even though the 2009 season-opening Daytona 500 is three months away, Edwards already is hungry for the season to start.
“I wish Daytona was starting in 20 minutes,” he said. “I want to race so bad. Nines races this season, seven in the Nationwide and real close in two championships. I can't wait to go.”
Tony Stewart ended his ten-year association with Joe Gibbs Racing and crew chief Greg Zipadelli with a ninth-place finish at Homestead. In a career that began with three victories during his 1999 rookie season, Stewart accumulated 33 wins and two championships, in 2002 and 2005.
As of Monday, he will turn his attention exclusively to his new role as owner/driver of Stewart-Haas Racing's Chevrolets.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News