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Winning a sixth Sprint Cup Series title wasn’t in the cards for Jimmie Johnson on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson needed a stellar race and a little luck to pass points leader Brad Keselowski, who needed only a 15th-place finish in the season finale to lock down his first series title.
That winning combination didn’t come for Johnson. He finished 36th after being eliminated from the race with a rear-gear problem after completing 224 of 267 laps in the Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Johnson started from the 10th position and showed early strength in the Lowe’s Chevrolet. He asked for small changes to the chassis early in the race but steadily drove through the field, leading three times for a total of 25 laps.
With only three cautions during the 267-lap event, it looked like fuel strategy would play a part in the outcome of the race. Crew chief Chad Knaus began working early to set up Johnson for that scenario. With fewer than 60 laps remaining, the Lowe’s Chevrolet was in position to pit just once more when most others needed to pit twice – including Keselowski, who was caught a lap down.
Johnson came to pit road on Lap 212 for a routine green-flag stop but left the pits with a missing lug nut. He had to return to his pit stall the following lap and re-entered the race one lap down, in 25th. Just 10 laps later, the situation went from bad to worse. Johnson radioed to his crew that he had a problem in the drive line and took his machine to the garage. The crew went to work to correct the problem, but with fewer than 35 laps remaining, Johnson was unable to return to the track before the finish.
“Definitely a disappointing finish to it all,” Johnson said, who has never won at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “We were putting the pressure on like we needed to. We had strategy on our side. Really in position to make it interesting there at the end. A couple of little problems – well, one problem and then a fatal issue got us at the end.
“Disappointing, for sure, but I’ve got to reflect back on an amazing year and a year where we won a lot of races, led a lot of laps, so I need to thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for their efforts. Lowe’s and their support, my family, Chevrolet and my wife and daughter for their great support, too.”
Jeff Gordon won the Ford EcoBoost 400 to score his 87th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Homestead. With the win at Homestead, Kentucky Speedway is the only Sprint Cup Series track at which Gordon has yet to win.
Clint Bowyer finished 1.028 seconds behind Gordon in the runner-up spot, while Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were three caution periods for 17 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers made the Chase. Johnson was the highest finishing driver for the organization. He finished third in the standings with 2,360 points, 40 behind champion Keselowski. Kasey Kahne was next, finishing fourth with 2,345 points, 55 out of first, followed by Gordon in 10th with 2,303 points, 97 out of first. Earnhardt finished 12th with 2,245 points, 155 out of first.
The 2013 Sprint Cup season kicks off Feb. 15-24 with the traditional Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The 55th Daytona 500, the first point-paying race of the season, is scheduled for Feb. 24 and will be broadcast live on FOX.