Jimmie Johnson becomes NASCAR’s third seven-time champion with Homestead victory

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) celebrate winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship after the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) celebrate winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship after the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) celebrate winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship after the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The number seven has long been a seemingly unreachable mountain at NASCAR’s highest level. Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt were the only drivers with seven career championships, with the final between the two coming in 1994.

On Sunday night in Homestead-Miami, Jimmie Johnson not only added his name to that illustrious list, he also became the youngest driver to collect seven titles at 41 years old.

Carl Edwards was in position to claim his first Sprint Cup after taking second from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and fellow-championship contender Kyle Busch with 24 laps to go. As Larson led, Edwards maintained his second position in the running order until the yellow flag waved for a Dylan Lupton spin with 15 laps remaining.

When the race restarted with 10 laps to go, Edwards and Joey Logano made contact that resulted in a multi-car wreck, collecting Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Regan Smith.

Edwards headed to the garage after attempting to block Logano, but the No. 22 was able to continue with significant damage to his car after NASCAR red-flagged the race for nearly 31 minutes for track clean-up.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver accepted blame for the incident. He also climbed on top of Logano’s pit box to shake hands with the No. 22 crew chief Todd Gordon’s hand.

When the race restarted, the yellow flag waved, again, within a lap for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wreck. In the short time the race ran green, Johnson got up to second, and Logano moved from eighth to third with the four new tires he took during the previous caution.

Busch headed to the pits, leaving Johnson and Logano to battle for the win and the championship. At the end, it was Johnson who overtook Kyle Larson to pull away for the win while Logano was shuffled back to fourth. The Team Penske driver was dejected at his car following the race.

“I just didn’t have enough time to get under him,” Logano said. “We lost some time there and unfortunately we finished second. The championship means so much and everyone forgets about second place. That is what stinks. But overall I am proud of this team. This will be motivation for next year. This hurts.”

Sunday was all about Hendrick with Johnson winning the title and Chase Elliott clinching Rookie of the Year. It wasn’t always easy for the four-car team, with Kasey Kahne struggling nearly all season and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing the second half with lingering concussion symptoms.

Despite losing Jeff Gordon as a full-time driver last season, it’s clear the future and present is still bright for Hendrick. Whether it’s Elliott or new addition William Byron that leads the team into the future, the present with a resurgent Johnson could make more history in the years to come.