HOMESTEAD, Fla. – 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 8 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.
“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 tough-luck loser this year was Matt Kenseth who, 10 years removed from his only NASCAR championship, had a career year but still came up short.
“Unfortunately, we’re racing during the Jimmie Johnson era,” said Denny Hamlin, winner of Sunday’s race. Hamlin lost the 2010 title to Johnson.
Johnson, needing to finish 23rd or better 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, causing Johnson to plunge 15 spots with damage to his fender.
Yet he still rallied to finish ninth and beat Kenseth by 19 points.
Kenseth, needing a Johnson collapse to have any shot at the title, positioned himself to pounce should anything go awry. Kenseth led a race-high 144 laps and finished second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin.
“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.”
With the sixth title, Johnson’s accomplishments resonate far beyond NASCAR.
His numbers stack up with Roger Federer, who won 16 of 27 Grand Slams from 2003-10; Michael Phelps, who won 18 gold medals in three Olympics from 2004 to 2012, and Tiger Woods, who won four consecutive majors in 2000 and 2001, and seven overall from 1999-2002.
More important to Johnson, like Michael Jordan, he now has six rings, too.
Jordan won six NBA titles from 1991-98.
“When you mention Michael’s name, he’s given me a hard time that I only won five,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to send him a text and say, ‘Hey, buddy, I’ve caught up.’”