Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway gave those in attendance a reason to feel thankful.
Starting from the rear and fighting to the front in a big hurry, it was Jimmie Johnson who stole the lead late to grab his first win at Homestead in his 16th try.
Additionally, and most importantly, the No. 48 driver won the 2016 Sprint Cup Series championship, tying him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most all-time in NASCAR history.
“There is no, no way on earth. Just beyond words,” Johnson said. “Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game.”
Starting from the back of the 40-car field due to an unapproved adjustment pre-race, the Hendrick Motorsports chassis stormed through the pack, entering the top 15 within 20 laps.
Gaining quick on short-run speed, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus did their usual deal – working together to perfection to take home a championship.
“Chad (Knaus, crew chief) called a great strategy,” Johnson said. “He made some great adjustments for the short runs. Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship.”
Speaking of “luck” it was the lack of which that possibly cost Carl Edwards a shot at his first Cup following a savage Turn 1 crash with eight laps to go.
Taking a chance on blocking fellow Chaser Joey Logano on the late restart, this time, it didn’t work out.
“I think it was just racing,” Edwards said. “It was the race of my life up to that point. That was a lot of fun and Joey was so good on the short run. I don’t know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart.
“I thought everything was going to work out and Jason (Hedlesky, spotter) told me he was looking low. I knew what Jason was saying and I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race.”
Crashing out of the race with Edwards was Brad Keselowski, Regan Smith, Ty Dillon, Martin Truex, Jr., who erupted into spectacular flames in Turn 1, and Kasey Kahne.
Joining the drivers on the disappointment front is Kyle Larson, the third-year driver who led a career-high 132 laps before losing the top spot to Johnson with two laps to go. Finishing second, Larson was followed by Kevin Harvick, Logano and Jamie McMurray in the top 5.
Chaser and defending champion Kyle Busch finished sixth with Matt Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin and Michael McDowell in the top 10.
Tony Stewart wrapped up his 18-year Cup career with a 22nd-place finish in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.