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Johnson clinches sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship

HOMESTEAD — Soaked in sweat, champagne and success, Jimmie Johnson celebrated yet another NASCAR championship by sipping a beer.

A six-pack would have been more appropriate.

Back on top with only two NASCAR legends left to catch, Johnson won his sixth title in eight years Sunday to stake his claim as one of the most dominant competitors in sports history. Now looming large in Johnson's windshield is the mark of seven titles held by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

The party had barely started on No. 6 when the debate began: Where does Johnson, who has used "#6Pack" as a Twitter hashtag to describe his bid, rank among NASCAR's greats?

"I feel like this team is capable of a lot of great things. There's still great years ahead of us," Johnson said. "But all of that is in the future, a seventh, an eighth. I don't want to focus on that yet. It's not time."

The time to rank Johnson will be when his career is over. But at just 38 and the youngest driver to win six titles, his career could last another decade or more.

"I have six, and we'll see if I can get seven," he said. "Time will tell."

Said crew chief Chad Knaus, who trails only Dale Inman's eight titles in NASCAR: "I don't think we're even close to the potential of the team yet."

That should be devastating news to the rest of NASCAR.

There's no telling how many drivers might have won titles had they not run against Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports. The loser this year was Matt Kenseth, who 10 years removed from his only championship had a career year but still came up short.

"Unfortunately, we're racing during the Jimmie Johnson era," said Denny Hamlin, who won Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400. Hamlin lost the 2010 title to Johnson. "We're just unlucky in that sense. I think being out there and racing with him, I can say he's the best that there ever was."

Johnson, needing only to finish 23rd to spoil Kenseth's dream season, was on cruise control most of the day at Homestead. His lone hiccup came when traffic stacked up on a restart and he and Kenseth made slight contact. Johnson plunged 15 spots in the field with damage to his fender.

Yet he rallied to finish ninth and beat Kenseth by 19 points.

"He is an amazing talent, there's no doubt about it," Knaus said. "He can do things with a race car that most mortals can't. Let's just be straight with it."

Kenseth led a race-high 144 laps and finished second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin.

"It was just an unbelievable year for us. Obviously, we wanted to win the championship as good as we ran all year," said Kenseth, winner of seven races in his first season with JGR.

Kenseth's effort just wasn't enough against a Hendrick team that wouldn't be denied for a third consecutive year.

"If Jimmie would have got a flat or something, that would have been all right," Kenseth lamented. "Never seen anything like this in the sport and probably never will again. … Maybe he'll retire."

Johnson won a record five straight titles from 2006-10 and last year tire failure in the penultimate race at Phoenix derailed him as Brad Keselowski took his first championship.

Hamlin bounced back from a fractured vertebra this season and finally earned his first win of 2013, winning at least once for the eighth straight season. But his celebration was brief as the victory stage was cleared for Johnson.

"This is extremely sweet," Johnson said. "It feels like the last five championships were a blur."

Final Sprint Cup points

Jimmie Johnson2,419
Matt Kenseth2,40019
Kevin Harvick2,38534
Kyle Busch2,36455
Dale Earnhardt Jr.2,36356
Jeff Gordon2,33782
Clint Bowyer2,33683
Joey Logano2,32396
Greg Biffle2,32198
Kurt Busch2,309110
Ryan Newman2,286133
Kasey Kahne2,283136
Carl Edwards2,282137

Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official results today.

Up next

2014 Daytona 500, Feb. 23, Daytona International Speedway

. Fast facts

Gearhead stats

Winner's average speed: 130.693 mph

Time of race: 3 hours, 3 minutes, 52 seconds

Margin of victory: 0.799 seconds

Caution flags: 8 for 37 laps

Lead changes: 22 among eight drivers

Lap leaders: Kenseth 1-11; Hamlin 12-13; Kenseth 14; Harvick 15; Kenseth 16-25; Ragan 26; Harvick 27; Ku.Busch 28-31; Kenseth 32-91; Larson 92; Kenseth 93-139; Earnhardt Jr. 140; Kenseth 141-142; Earnhardt Jr. 143-153; Kenseth 154-166; Hamlin 167-207; Harvick 208-213; B.Keselowski 214-222; Hamlin 223; D.Earnhardt Jr. 224-235; Hamlin 236-239; D.Earnhardt Jr. 240-243; D.Hamlin 244-267

Johnson clinches sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship 11/17/13 [Last modified: Sunday, November 17, 2013 10:31pm]
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