Saturday, November 25, 2017
Sports

Fennelly: NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson goes from last to legend

RECOMMENDED READING


HOMESTEAD — It took one heck and wreck of a Hail Mary to do it.

But there he stands.

Hail Jimmie.

Jimmie Johnson. Richard Petty. Dale Earnhardt.

They're running three wide in history.

And Jimmie Johnson absolutely belongs.

"It's incredible," he said. "I can't lie."

Sunday night he earned his record-tying seventh NASCAR championship every bit as much as Petty and Earnhardt earned theirs. In fact, Johnson's seven are more impressive, coming as they have in a true age of NASCAR parity.

That Johnson came out of nowhere — nowhere — at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the Sprint Cup season's final race in NASCAR overtime, and with it the Chase for the Championship, made it even more remarkable.

Johnson, 41, started at the back of the Ford EcoBoost 400 field, well behind his Championship 4 competitors, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. At times it looked like Edwards' night. At times it looked like Busch's night. At times it looked like Logano's night. It hardly ever looked like Johnson's night.

And then it belonged to him, and will forever.

He led three laps all race, but the last two were enough.

His No. 48 car qualified to start 14th, but NASCAR decided Johnson's crew made "unapproved adjustments" after Sunday's prerace inspection. The 48 was pulled from the grid, then placed in back. Sometimes I wonder if Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, has ever met Bill Belichick.

Anyway, Johnson started last. He worked his way up quickly but basically stalled at around fifth place. He didn't have the best car. Until it mattered.

And now he is part of history.

With the alleged retirement of Jeff Gordon last season, and now salutes to the great fireball Tony Stewart — who drove his final Sprint Cup race Sunday — everywhere, only one active racer has won more than one championship.

Hail Jimmie.

Nobody else has more than one. Think about that.

Do you know what any driver would do to win one championship?

We saw what Edwards and Logano would do. The two racers in the Championship 4 who had never won a title knew what was on the line and raced that way on a restart with 10 laps to go.

Logano got the jump on Edwards, who was running second. Edwards moved down low to block. Logano tapped Edwards' left rear. Edwards hit an inside wall, then an outside wall. Wrecked. Done.

"I couldn't have slept (Sunday night) if I'd given him that lane," Edwards said.

That's how much they wanted one, just one.

Jimmie Johnson has seven.

Think about that.

That caution was his opening. He climbed into the race. He led Busch and Logano on the restart, then grabbed the race lead on another restart after another caution.

Jimmie Johnson closed the deal.

He has done that his entire career.

"If anybody deserves it, it's him," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was with Johnson in Victory Lane, as were Gordon, Stewart and seemingly all of mankind. "If my dad were here, he'd happily welcome him."

Listen to Junior, everybody, because he's not wrong.

"Jimmie is a great champion. This is really good for our sport," King Richard Petty said.

Hey, you heard the King.

"It means the world to me to tie Earnhardt and Petty," Johnson said. "These guys are legends of our sport, grew our sport, made it what it is today, for guys like myself to come along and be able to compete. I'm so thankful for their legacies, their families, their dedication to the sport. … And I just hope I can carry the torch, carry the banner, the way they have."

History is in good hands.

And that's no lie.

Comments

No. 7 Florida finishes No. 17 Gonzaga in 2OT; No. 1 Duke up next for Gators

PORTLAND, Ore. — Jalen Hudson scored a career-high 35, including eight 3-pointers, and No. 7 Florida downed No. 17 Gonzaga 111-105 in double overtime Friday night at the PK80 Invitational. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza added a career-high 26 poin...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Region football: Plant 13, Lakeland 10

Region football: Plant 13, Lakeland 10

LAKELAND — The game — and the season — were supposed to be over.Lakeland was set to exact revenge. The Dreadnaughts had the lead and the ball in the final three minutes and were heading for a field goal. Then it happened. The magic continued.Plant’s ...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Region football: Venice 48, Tampa Bay Tech 17

VENICE — Tampa Bay Tech not only had to stop a hot receiver in Friday night’s Class 7A region final against Venice, but a hot running back as well. That proved to be too much.Indians receiver Jaivon Heiligh caught 14 passes for 193 yards and three to...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Region football: Armwood 31, Ocala Vanguard 17

SEFFNER — Armwood appeared to be on its way to yet another rout through the first 24 minutes of football Friday night.James Miller delivered a crunching hit on the opening kickoff. The defense looked suffocating, holding Ocala Vanguard to a mere 23 y...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Region football: Immokalee 42, Lakewood 14

IMMOKALEE — The final score wasn’t truly indicative of what transpired on Friday night.Lakewood fell to a dynamic Immokalee squad 42-14 in a tough environment in a Class 5A region final.The Spartans (9-2) forced three turnovers and held Immokalee (12...
Updated: 8 hours ago
State semifinal football: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna 49, Clearwater Central Catholic 3

State semifinal football: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna 49, Clearwater Central Catholic 3

CLEARWATER — Stocked with a wealth of Division I-A commits and prepared by a heavy-duty schedule, Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna spent three months building for Friday night’s Class 3A state semifinal game.The Lions played at another level against top-s...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rose leaves Cavs for ‘personal matter’

Rose leaves Cavs for ‘personal matter’

CLEVELAND — Derrick Rose’s injuries might have pushed him to a breaking point. The 2011 league MVP, who has been trying to revive his career with the Cavaliers, left the team Wednesday to handle a personal matter. A team spokesman said Friday that Ro...
Updated: 8 hours ago

State semifinal football: Hialeah Champagnat Catholic 38, Cambridge Christian 0

TAMPA — Hialeah Champagnat Catholic was well on its way to a third unanswered touchdown, but the Lions just couldn’t stop blocking their own path. In one second-quarter drive during Friday’s 2A state semifinal against Cambridge Christian, Champagnat ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning attitude under fire after loss to Capitals

Lightning attitude under fire after loss to Capitals

WASHINGTON — You don’t often sense frustration in captain Steven Stamkos’ voice, at least not this season. With the Lightning off to its best start in franchise history, there haven’t been many reasons to chide. Every criticism seems nitpicky. But af...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Hogs boot Bielema out after five seasons

Hogs boot Bielema out after five seasons

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas fired football coach Bret Bielema after five disappointing seasons, moments after a season-ending 48-45 loss to Missouri on Friday. Arkansas finished 4-8, capping the second losing season of Bielema’s 12-year career. He ...
Updated: 8 hours ago