Nine years ago, from his couch in El Cajon, California, Jimmie Johnson watched his future team's co-owner, Jeff Gordon, win the NASCAR Nextel Cup championship (then the NASCAR Winston Cup Series). Last night, he raised the chalice himself after finishing 9th at Homestead, 56 points ahead of Matt Kenseth for the season, as the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup series champion.
The #48 Lowes Home Improvement Chevrolet team overcame a hole in the grille and no tape to fix it, a fantastic call by crew chief Chad Knaus, catching a loose left front lug nut before Jimmy left the pits that kept them from going a lap down, and a near-miss with Robbie Gordon in the closing laps to complete the chase for his first NASCAR Nextel Cup championship. Greg Biffle, who finished second to Tony Stewart for the championship last year, won the season-ender Ford 400 for the third year in a row.Follow the jump for a brief history lesson on how the 10-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship Race went for Jimmie Johnson.
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Johnson started the 10-race playoff with a crash and horrible 39th place finish at New Hampshire, placing him 139 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. Experts always talk about the one "mulligan" in the chase, and Jimmie used his up early. At the second race in Dover, Jimmie finished 18th but was able to move up 1 spot in the chase to 8th after early crashes by Kasey Khane and Kyle Busch relegated them to 9th and 10th respectively.
A 14th place finish at race No. 3 in Kansas maintained Johnson's 8th place spot in the standings. An unbelievable last lap crash at race no. 4 in Talladega, caused by teammate and race winner Brian Vickers, wrecked both Earnhart Jr. and Johnson while running 1-2 on the back straight of the last lap, dropping them to 23rd and 24th in the race and 5th and 8th in the points. That would be the last finish out of the top-10 for the #48 team in 2006.
The next 5 races brought an emotional win at Martinsville, where Johnson won last year on the day of a corporate plane crash that took the lives of 10 Hendricks family members, and four second place finishes at Lowes, Atlanta, Texas, and Phoenix giving him a solid grasp on first place in the championship points heading for the last race at Homestead.Jimmie Johnson deserves this championship. After five full seasons in NASCAR Nextel Cup, finishing second in the points on two occasions, he has been too close for too long. Having avoided a tie with Mark Martin for the highest number of second place finishes in the championship, Johnson had made this a season that will be revered for years to come. At least until he wins his next championship, which probably isn't too far off in the future.