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Jimmie Johnson and His Hendrick Motorsports Team Let Sixth Championship Slip Away

November 19th, 2012 at 9:55 PM
By Mark Eddinger

Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team looked like they were on a direct line to win their sixth Sprint Cup Series Championship in seven years after winning Chase race seven and eight at Martinsville and Texas. Yes, Brad Keselowski was hanging tough with Johnson but odds and most people's pick were with Johnson.

 'Jimmie and Chandra' photo (c) 2011, Bertho RF1 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Then at Phoenix International Raceway in Chase race nine Johnson melted a bead on the right front tire and slammed the outside wall off of Turn 4. It was a mistake that NASCAR fans don't usually see from the No. 48 team. He would finish in 32nd place and watch Keselowski swerve his way to a sixth place finish. 

That left him in a 20 point hole entering Homestead-Miami Speedway, a deficit that looked too large to overcome. Late in the race though as they ran on the track Johnson held a seven point advantage. His strategy was set up the same way that Jeff Gordon's was, the eventual winner, except Johnson was ahead of the No. 24. But then things unraveled for the 5-time champ. 

On a green flag stop the rear-tire changer left a lug nut loose which cost him a penalty. Then a few laps later Johnson's cockpit filled with smoke as his Chevrolet had a broken gear cooling line. He pulled the Lowe's car onto pit road and eventually the garage where he would remain for the final 43 laps of the race. 

"It all unraveled pretty quick,'' said Johnson. "The pit road thing, I was just kind of dealing with that … and [crew chief] Chad [Knaus] had some optimism left in his voice. I ran a handful of laps and then I could smell some oil. There was a lot of shaking in the car. I knew it was going to be big and going to be fatal. It's definitely disappointing, but again, I feel that we had the speed and we had 80 percent of the Chase that we needed to have. So it's hard to be real down on myself or real down on where we finished. I'm proud of the fact that we went out there and backed up what we said we could do and we put the pressure on. It doesn't take the sting away from losing the championship.''

Johnson would finish in 36th and only add nine points to his total. Keselowski ended up in 15th which was where he needed to finish if he was to clinch the title. But if Johnson did not incur the pit penalty and then have the gear issue he most likely would have won the race. Since Kyle Busch led the most laps Johnson would have received 47 points, 38 more than he did. 
 
That would have meant he would have been two points behind Keselowski instead of the 40 that he finished at. If Johnson was closing in on a win, who knows what Keselowski and his Penske Racing team would have done with their strategy. The race could have played out differently and Keselowski could have finished lower than 15th perhaps which would have opened the door for Johnson to take the championship. 
 
Jimmie Johnson had the statistics of a championship season. His five wins were tied for the most in the series as were his four poles. His 18 top 5's were four more than any other driver and his 24 top 10's were the most as well. All of those stats though meant nothing because of the three big mistakes and racing misfortune that occurred to the No. 48 team in the last two races. It was a site that was weird to see for sure. 

 

Tags: Brad Keselowski, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Motorsports, NASCAR, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports, Phoenix International Raceway, Sprint Cup Series, Sprint Cup Series championship

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