Nothing could stop Jimmie Johnson's drive into the NASCAR record books. Not even a final, furious push by Carl Edwards.
Edwards led a race-high 157 laps, ran out of gas as he crossed the finish line, but still won Sunday's season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His series-high ninth win of the year wasn't enough to wrest away the Sprint Cup title.
Johnson, a Granite Hills high school alum, locked up his third consecutive championship with a solid 15th-place run, beating Edwards by 69 points to join Cale Yarborough as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three straight titles.
"It's the ultimate reward. We worked so hard to put ourselves in this position," Johnson said. "It's just total teamwork and dedication. There were times this year when things were dark, but we buckled down and got to work and that's what it was really all about."
Yarborough won his three titles 30 years ago, under a different scoring system and in a very different NASCAR. He accomplished his feat when drivers scraped together the cash they needed to race, and the champion was the guy on top at the end of a long grueling season. Johnson's titles have been won in the glitzy new Chase to the championship format, where the best 12 drivers compete over a 10-race sprint to the title.
Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have mastered the system, proving themselves unbeatable in their pursuit of Yarborough's mark. They've won their titles with consistency -- he finished outside the top 10 just twice in this Chase, a 15th-place finish at Texas -- and by winning eight of the last 30 Chase races. They've also gotten very rich along the way: Johnson has won more than $2 million in the 10 Chase races this year. Y
arborough notched a combined $1.63 million in all three of his championship seasons. Edwards pushed it to the limit, knowing he had to win the race, lead the most laps and pray for Johnson to have some trouble to win his first title. But he was a gracious runner-up, and after his trademark celebratory backflip, he walked over to Johnson's passing car on the track to congratulate him.
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"At least we can lay our heads down tonight and know we won some races and just got beaten by a true champion," Edwards said.