Sunday, June 24, 2018
Sports

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."

Comments
Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

Rays beat Yankees in 12 innings on Jake Bauers homer

ST. PETERSBURG – Jake Bauers hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning as the Rays defeated the Yankees 7-6 in front of 23,667 at Tropicana Field to complete a three-game sweep Sunday. It's the first time the Yankees have lost three straight t...
Updated: 9 minutes ago

A local hockey draftee? Mitchell grad Nathan Smith is just that

TAMPA — Every year during draft season, local players from the Tampa Bay area are selected in the NFL, MLB and even NBA drafts.But hockey?Sure enough, in the third round of Saturday's NHL draft, the Winnipeg Jets selected Nathan Smith, a forwar...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Rays sweep Yankees with Bauers walk-off in 12 innings

Rays sweep Yankees with Bauers walk-off in 12 innings

Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Jake Bauers (9) hit a walkoff homerun during the Tampa Bay Rays game against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field on June 24, 2018, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays won 7-6.Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Jake Bauers (9)...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

Rays team up to beat Yankees again 4-0

ST. PETERSBURG — With all that's been said, tweeted, ranted and written on these pages and elsewhere about the Rays' odd, unorthodox, weird and some days downright wacky pitching plan, this might be the craziest thing yet:It's working.Like, rea...
Published: 06/23/18
Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

Greg Auman answers your questions about NFL’s investigation into Jameis Winston

There are many unanswered questions and discrepancies about the story of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and the March 2016 Uber ride in Arizona that has led to his upcoming three-game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct policy.The Bucs won't ...
Published: 06/23/18
Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

Will this be Jameis Winston’s last season in a Bucs uniform?

A t his introductory news conference after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Bucs in 2015, Jameis Winston said to judge him on his actions moving forward."Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have hear...
Published: 06/23/18
Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Besides the continual evolution of their intriguing pitching plan, the primary topics of conversation for the Rays over the next several weeks will be trades and prospects. And not mutually exclusively.Some sooner than others, the Rays are going to c...
Published: 06/23/18
Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

It's rare to see an NHL draft pick with Tampa Bay ties, but the Jets used a third-round pick Saturday on center Nathan Smith, 19, who played for Mitchell High School in Trinity and most recently for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.Smith was ...
Published: 06/23/18
Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Despite limited salary-cap room, the Lightning is among at least five teams expected to talk with Islanders All-Star center John Tavares, who can be a free agent July 1, when the courting period begins Sunday, ESPN reported.Tavares also is expected t...
Published: 06/23/18
Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

Rays journal: New confidence carries over for Willy Adames

ST. PETERSBURG — The key to SS Willy Adames rapping two of the biggest hits in the Rays' 4-0 win Saturday actually took place the night before.An RBI single that snapped an 0-for-12 and a second hit two winnings later in Friday's game restored ...
Published: 06/23/18