Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Sudden Shift Hands Johnson Record-Tying Title

Who’s in the headline – The elite level of NASCAR has increased by 50%. There are many gauges to judge the greats but championships are a huge differentiator. Jimmie Johnson took advantage of circumstances that fell his way, led the final three laps, and notched his seventh career title. Johnson shares the headline with Tony Stewart who ran his final race at the Cup level of his distinguished career. Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus becomes the second to sit atop the box for seven titles.

What happenedKevin Harvick started on pole and led the first 31 laps. Lost the lead to Carl Edwards on a restart but gained it back three laps later. Gave it up after 33 more laps for a green flag stop. Edwards led a bit before pitting himself. Harvick led 15 more laps before Logano took the point. Edwards took it back on lap 92 and proceeded to trade it with Kyle Larson for next 173 laps except for one lap under caution for Kyle Busch. After an enormous wreck that took out Edwards, damaged Logano and reduced the field by several cars, Johnson positioned himself to grab the top spot on the final restart of the race after a caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. being wrecked off of turn two.

Why you should care – People will discuss and debate the relevance and legitimacy but there is no question, Johnson has now joined Petty and Earnhardt in the pantheon of NASCAR. Parity in the sport is at an all-time high and the ability of one man to win seven titles in eleven years is simply amazing. It may be years after he retires but some day his greatness will be appreciated. Probably after he ends up with the most titles and the second most wins.

What your friends are talking aboutDaniel Suarez claimed the XFINITY series title Saturday night. He became the first Latin American to win a national touring series title in NASCAR. Suarez is the first graduate of the Drive for Diversity to win an XFINITY series title. Suarez was the Rookie of the Year in the series last year.

Brian France had a media availability Sunday morning in Homestead. He was lauding the title for Suarez and the success of the diversity initiative. He was also quite complimentary of the results of the elimination Chase format in the XFINITY and Truck Series. He was abrupt and dismissive about questions concerning the health of the sport, ratings and attendance. It is never good when the person at the top of the organization refuses to admit there is a problem.

Tommy Baldwin Racing has sold their charter to Leavine Family Racing. Baldwin has been a team owner for eight years in the Cup series and has attempted every race in that time. Circle Sport is ending their partnership with Leavine at the end of this season and Thrivent Financial has announced they will not be returning to their organization. The addition of the charter for LFR will most certainly entice potential sponsors to come on board the No. 95 with guaranteed starting spots in all of the races next season.

Tony Stewart is done racing in the Cup series. One of the best drivers in the history of the sport, with three championships, Stewart leaves with 49 wins. He will undoubtedly be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He will still be present at the track along with his duties as owner of Eldora Speedway, Tony Stewart Racing and the Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions. Stewart will also be on more local dirt tracks chasing his passion of racing on dirt. Stewart goes down in history as the only driver to win a Winston Cup, Nextel Cup and Sprint Cup.

Toyota won the Manufacturer’s championship in the Cup series for the first time since joining the sport. The presence of the Japanese auto manufacturer has long been a bone of contention for longtime fans but they are a bridge to the younger demographic NASCAR hopes to attract. That also leads Brian France to admit there is at least some interest on behalf of the sanctioning body to add another manufacturer to the mix. Honda has long been discussed. It will be interesting if they ever finally come around.

Who is mad – Is there any doubt the maddest driver leaving Homestead is Carl Edwards? Edwards was in front of the final four drivers for most of the race. He was in a position to win the title when a questionable caution flew for a car bouncing off of the wall. On the subsequent restart Logano had a run and Edwards had to block him to maintain his shot to win the title. He ended up spinning across the track after bouncing off of the inside wall, slid over the top of Kasey Kahne‘s car and wound up in a steaming heap of twisted sheet metal and scored in 34th position. For the second time in his career he had a title ripped from his hands when he was holding it so close to the end of the year.

Martin Truex Jr. saw his season come to an end engulfed in a ball of fire on the inside of turns one and two at Homestead after being caught up in the same wreck that took out Edwards. After failing to make the final eight thanks to a blown engine at Talladega, Truex was hoping to grab a win to finish the year. Unfortunately his car didn’t have the speed to contend for the win Sunday which is why he was back in the pack and caught up in someone else’s mess. Fortunately he got out of the car quickly and was uninjured by the inferno. He is hoping to come back stronger than ever in 2017.

Logano also has to be less than thrilled about the penultimate restart of the race. He had a run on Edwards and made the move to his inside to try and get to the top spot among championship contenders. Edwards blocked for all he was worth and that resulted in the big wreck. While Logano could continue and came home in fourth position in the race, he lost his shot at the title on that one move. Logano has won more races than anyone in the Chase over the last two years but still does not have a title to show for it.

Who is happyMichael McDowell went into Homestead wondering who will sponsor his car next year and whether he’ll have a ride next year if they can’t find one. He also had to qualify on speed as Ty Dillon was jumping into his normal No. 95 ride. Not only did he qualify into the race he dodged the carnage, had a strong run and came home with a top 10 finish. This was McDowell’s second top 10 of the season which is two more than Danica Patrick, in weaker equipment.

AJ Allmendinger was scored two laps down at one point during the race. Similar to McDowell he kept digging, avoided the mayhem and ended up crossing the finish line in eighth place. This was his ninth top 10 of the season which is the second most of his career. He is still chasing that elusive first oval win, and next year is going to be a challenge expanding to a second team, but he is knocking on the door and the victory is right around the corner.

Top 5s are very hard to come by in the Cup series and Jamie McMurray turned in his second this weekend. His first was week 10 at Talladega. McMurray qualified for the Chase but was knocked out in the first round. His teammate made it one more round but had a win and had better runs during the Chase. Leaving 2016 on an up tick will hopefully set the table for McMurray to make a stronger run in 2017.

When the checkered flag flew: Jimmie Johnson scored the win at Homestead in his 543rd career start.

Johnson’s win was his first of his career at Homestead-Miami Speedway. There are now three tracks on the schedule where Johnson has failed to win. They are Chicago, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.

Johnson was victorious five times in 2016 which is the most in the series.

Johnson also has 29 career wins in the Chase which is more than anyone else in the series.

On the all-time wins list Johnson is ranked seventh behind Cale Yarborough.

Kyle Larson came home with his fourth top 2 run of the season.

Larson’s runner-up was his first in four career races at Homestead.

For his career Larson has come home in the second spot six times. That ties him for 79th on the all-time list.

Rounding out the podium at the season finale was Kevin Harvick for his ninth of the season.

Harvick has come home in the top 3 seven times in his career and three years in a row.

All-time Harvick has come home on the podium 108 times which is 16th on the list.

Chase Elliott won the Rookie of the Race for his 11th place finish and was also announced as the Rookie of the Year in the Cup series.

Toyota was declared the Manufacturer’s champion and swept all three of the national touring series awards in that category.

What is in the cooler – Similar to last week, the new Chase format certainly added some excitement to the racing with the pressure of what was at stake. Sadly the biggest turn in the events was the late race restart crash that took Edwards out of contention. That wreck doesn’t take place if NASCAR doesn’t throw a caution when Dylan Lupton bounces off of the wall in turn one and drives to the pits. The racing was still intense and there were multiple passes for the lead. As a result we’ll give it four cold On Top Blondes from Funky Buddha Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – NASCAR national touring series racing is done for the season. The next opportunity to see a gathering of your favorite NASCAR stars is Friday, December 2. The banquet will take place at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Racing returns to the track February 18th for the Shootout at Daytona.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Brian France Sucks

Another manipulated caution flag alters the outcome of a race, and a contrived championship system. Imagine that. Everyone watching the race had to know the yellow rag was coming. Brian France has presided over the degradation of the sport his grandad built from scratch and his dad shepherded to the next level. If he was running a publicly traded company, he would have been canned several years ago.


The Lupton caution only looks good when compared to the customary “Make Sure the Chasers are all on the Same Sequence” debris caution when Kyle Busch was off sequence and close to having to pit.
Maybe it was me but Kyle Larson’s lack of resistance on the final restart seemed a bit on the curious side.
There are politicians who wish they were half as tone deaf as Brian France.

Bill B

Another load of crap race to determine the champion. Screw NASCAR.




guess na$car will tout johnson’s 7th title as a way of enticing a series sponsor. his 7 aren’t in the same league as petty and earnhardt’s 7. sorry, just stating the facts.


The cream came to the top once again.Still though to be honest Dale Earnhardt Sr. still is and always has been my driver. Brain France and his Francegate activities have got to go.His sister would have been a much better choice to lead the company in my view.


This is the first sentence. This is the penultimate sentence. I’m done now.


A perfect crapshoot ending to a perfect crapshoot format. Sorry, but as great a driver as Jimmy is, I will never be able to put a 10 race ‘get lucky’ title in the same category as The King and The Intimidator. Seeing BoZo sweat like someone being questioned by the Spanish Inquisition certainly makes me wonder how much confidence any sponsor can have in the series under the bungling tutelage of BZF.


I’ve got a feeling potential sponsors come away from a meeting with Brian asking “What the hell did he say?”

Or “He wants how much?” as they walk away shaking their heads.


My brother phoned yesterday and asked if I as going to watch the race and I said probably not. He said he thought Edwards would win and I said probably Johnson. He would cruise around for most of the race staying close enough to the lead to be at the front after the last pit stop and then show how fast he was. You can learn things by studying the past. Some people get that. One person doesn’t.


…Yes the fix was in for sure. 7 Time was not to be denied. Shocker this was not. Let’s start paying attention to the NASCAR “story lines” coming a few weeks before the Daytona opener and we will be guaranteed ahead of time who the “earned” Pole sitter will be. Bahaahahahaaaa…..


kd you know who the earned pole winner will be for the 500…..earnhardt jr if he comes back to racing!




Brian this week too, tripled down his declaration that this format is just fantastic, and the fans love it. I want what he is drinking.

Honest Injun

I don’t think its what he’s drinking……seems more fiendish

Honest Injun

I don’t think its what he’s drinking……seems more fiendish


A Double Down and a AMEN~!!!!


I have not watched a single race this year, but just came here each week to read about it. It has been very nice.

Surely you are joking with your first sentence? The elite level has not increased in NASCAR. NASCAR is turned into motorized version of the WWE where every race is pre-ordained as to who will win as well as every championship. Brian France has ruined this sport for me. I am a long-time NASCAR fan, but am done. His dad and granddad would be proud! (Insert sarcasm here!)

Jimmie Johnson couldn’t hold a candle to either Earnhardt or Petty. Those guys raced when you truly had no idea who would win each week.

Tim S.

Predictable ending. As soon as Johnson was pulled out of line for whatever violation, I knew what was coming. Classic Hendrick sandbagging and overcoming “adversity.” A script that has played out many, many times, with Johnson or Gordon in the starring role. Also appeared as if plenty of teams racing for wins/sponsors/careers just pulled over and let the Chasers cruise right on by.


Welll said, and you captured the bs. narrative perfectly!


An excellent Championship weekend. The race of the weekend was the Xfinity Race. It proved how good the product can be without the big Cup guys there. It would have been even better if the 14 stayed out of the way. The Cup finale was just crazy. Whatever is working at Homestead needs to be translated to other 1.5 mile tracks. Homestead is easily the best track at that distance. I feel bad for Edwards. I’m starting to think he has a Homestead curse. Congrats to Jimmie and the 48. Chad made those big adjustments mid-race and they paid off. Regardless of what people think of the Chase, you could see the intensity on the track and drivers laying it all on the line. Despite all the “doom and gloom” around NASCAR now, I see the potential for big things in 2017. I expect Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson to win races next year and be in contention for the Championship.

On a side note, I would love to see a European manufacturer enter the sport. Seeing Mercedes, BMW, VW/Audi out there would be cool.


And meanwhile ratings were down 25% from last year’s Game 7. I presume this is because of the under-counting of the millions of people gathered in hordes to watch it online. Also, that must have been a press release sellout crowd yesterday.
Bottom line, lots of people haven’t bought into the Chase or a 7-time champion or cashed out a long time ago.
I know I bagged on Larson all of sudden becoming passive on the last restart but if I had spent money to sponsor that car yesterday, I would think long and hard about spending another dime in NASCAR. He might as well have been Reed Sorensen or David Ragan yesterday in spite of being far superior to that field.
It would be interesting if you slipped some truth serum into these drivers what they would express about the state of NASCAR. You know they’re not making near the money of past years and with this charter system that has only made things worse.


Wow, the negativity and tin foil hat conspiracy that’s being spewed today. If you hate NASCAR that badly then just don’t watch. I’ve been a fan and have attended races for over forty years and can tell you the competition is better now than during any point during that time. In Petty’s time there were maybe three to four cars that were able to compete with him on a regular basis. In Earnhardt’s time that number rose to maybe seven or eight that actually were capable of winning a race. Today there are at least ten to twelve that are capable of winning. Does that diminish the accomplishments of either Petty or Earnhardt. Not at all, but it also doesn’t diminish Johnson’s accomplishments in comparison to the others. Whose to say that Johnson wouldn’t have won championships under the points system that Petty and Earnhardt won theirs. I’m sure the 48 team would have adjusted their strategy to be successful in that era just as Petty and Earnhardt’s teams would have adjusted to today’s points system if they had to. Talent is talent no matter what era it performs in.


I predicted the caution would come out with about 20 to go. I was close. It was with 15 to go. For what I’m not sure. I saw a car scrape the wall and I saw a car fish tail with a tire going down. Both continued on to pit road, but Nascar couldn’t throw the flag any faster than they did. As a results, they screwed Larson of a win, Edwards of a title, and gift wrapped the championship to Johnson, who was 8th and not moving forward until the bogus caution. I also find it interesting that they waited half a lap before they threw the caution for Stenhouse slamming the inside wall. It also appears Larson was told not to put up a fight for the win. Nascar can’t have its champion not win the race after all. I sure hope BZF writes Ganassi a sizeable check for that.

I won’t get started on the fawning of 7 time. What a joke. He will never be compared to those that won titles under the full season format. Under the old format, he only finishes 7th this season and would only have 3 titles total I think. But of course we will never hear the end of how great Jimmie is it until Homestead next year. Best ever? Please! Another reason to tune out.

By the way, congrats to McDowell for securing a Top 10 in an unfunded team while being completely ignored.

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