HOMESTEAD — Jimmie Johnson was chasing much more than a championship.
He was also chasing NASCAR history.
The most dominant driver of this decade won a record fourth consecutive championship Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he raced hard to finish fifth in the Ford 400 when 25th place would have gotten the job done.
In doing so, Johnson joined Richard Petty (seven), Dale Earnhardt (seven) and teammate Jeff Gordon (four) as the only drivers to win more than three titles. He surpassed Cale Yarborough's string of three in a row from 1976-78.
"The cool thing is, we're not done yet," Johnson, 34, said.
All he ever wanted was a chance to race against the best. Maybe even win a race or two. Never did he expect to be a champion. Especially four times over.
"I grew up on two wheels in the dirt," the Californian said. "I had no clue I was going to end up here racing stock cars and doing something that had never been done before. To do something that's never been done in the sport, and love the sport like I do and respect it like I do and the greats — Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon — to do something they have never done is so awesome.
"And to win four championships in eight years, what this team has done — this is unbelievable."
Johnson bulldozed his way into the record books, pouncing when the Sprint Cup 10-race Chase for the Championship began to pull team owner Rick Hendrick into the record books with him. Johnson's title gave a record 12th overall championship to Hendrick, who was in North Carolina with a niece who was undergoing an emergency liver transplant.
In his absence, Johnson, Mark Martin and Gordon celebrated a 1-2-3 finish in the final points standings, the first time in modern NASCAR history a team owner has swept the standings.
"Heavy hearts and prayers with the boss man and the family," Martin said, paying homage to Hendrick, then later praising his teammate. "What they've done is incredible, just incredible. Ask anybody's who's tried to beat them."
Johnson now stands atop NASCAR as a one-man dynasty, much like golf's Tiger Woods, tennis' Roger Federer and cycling's Lance Armstrong in their sports.
But there seem to be plenty of chances left for Johnson's tag-team with crew chief Chad Knaus to keep Hendrick and the No. 48 in the title hunt for another decade.
Johnson signed a five-year extension to drive for Hendrick through 2015, and Knaus has insisted the No. 48 team can keep this pace for several years.
Johnson doesn't want to take anything for granted along the way.
"I don't know if we'll win another championship," he said. "I feel in my heart we'll be competitive, but at some point in time, we won't be that team."
That's why Johnson never let up in pursuit of the championship. He raced hard for wins in nine of the 10 Chase races, and for all 400 miles at Homestead, where he threatened to try to run down the leaders to better his eventual fifth-place finish.
It made for a sometimes-testy drive into history for Johnson, who was at times annoyed at rival drivers and even Gordon, the mentor and teammate who helped him land his job with Hendrick Motorsports.
Nobody gave Johnson anything, either. The other drivers raced hard around him all day, making Johnson earn every point in a race won by Denny Hamlin, who won a career-high four races this season.
Johnson won seven races this season, four after the Chase began in September. In fact, since the Chase format began in 2004, Johnson has won 18 of 60 Chase races.
He has never finished lower than fifth in the final standings and actually had a shot at winning the title in 2004 and '05 — only to fall short in the finale.
His competitors continue to marvel at his success.
"As a competitor, that Johnson ticks me off. As a friend, teammate, fellow car owner, they're amazing," Gordon said. "I never thought in my career, in my lifetime, I'd see somebody win four in a row. To see it happening right in front of your eyes makes it even more extraordinary."