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.
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.''
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