Denny Hamlin would take the lead off pit road on the final round of pit stops with 37 laps to go and hold both his teammate Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. off to take the victory. It marks his first victory of the season following an early season back injury that saw Hamlin sit out some races. Hamlin has now won a race in each season that he has raced in the Sprint Cup Series.
“I wanted to keep that streak alive,” Hamlin said. “This whole team has stuck with us.”
Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson would finish a solid ninth to win the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. It marks the sixth championship for the El Cajon, California native.
“I don’t know where to start,” Johnson said afterwards. “I’m lost for words. I’m so thankful for this opportunity. Thank you for Jeff and Rick believing in me. Thank you for Lowe’s for coming on board. I’m so thankful to be able to work with these guys. I’m so thankful to drive for this race team and so honored to have the six pack.”
It also marks the sixth championship for Chad Knaus, who has been with Johnson since his rookie year in 2002.
“What a great day,” Knaus commented. “I can thank everyone enough. A lot of effort went into the performance of the 48 car this year. Everybody dug deep. We had a whole bunch of new players and everybody played a role in winning this year.”
For car owner Rick Hendrick, it gives him his 11th championship in NASCAR as he has six with Johnson, four with Jeff Gordon and one with Terry Labonte.
“We’re like a big family and all the guys work together,” Hendrick said. “I thought we would have to come in, I thought it was over. I saw the stress because I felt it tonight. When you get down to it, Matt and Joe Gibbs and those guys worked their butts off.”
Johnson’s day wasn’t without drama as Jeff Gordon spun his tires on a restart with 72 laps to go, resulting in the field stacking up and Johnson getting all squirrelly, making contact with Matt Kenseth and dinging in the fender.
The break in momentum caused Johnson to fall from inside the top eight to just outside the top 20. Johnson began his climb back, including some real close racing with Greg Biffle, before a caution flew shortly after with 64 laps to go.
“It put us back in traffic and made things interesting, but I knew I had the car to do it,” Johnson commented. “I think I had four angels on this car. My grandma died earlier this year. It’s sad to say that I’m without grandparents. I had her, and three other angels. This is dedicated to her. She was my biggest fan.”
Johnson came down pit road for tires and tugged on the left front fender, restarting in the 17th position. He then used the final 57 laps to slowly climb his way back to the top 10.
“I knew our car was plenty good to get back up there,” Knaus said. “I wish we could’ve raced it out, but hey, we got a pretty good trophy. You can’t thank wins for granted; you can’t take championships for granted. They’re so hard to achieve. You have to cherish each one of them.”
38-year-old Johnson was joined in Championship victory lane by his wife Chandra and daughter Genieve.
“There is the strongest woman on the planet,” Johnson said of his wife. “She keeps me grounded, helps me raise the kids. I’m her third kid. I’m so happy to be married for her.”
Matt Kenseth led the first half of the event on his way to finishing second in the race and second in the championship standings.
“It was an unbelievable year for us,” Kenseth said. “We wanted to win the championship but couldn’t be more proud of the team and the job they did. Super happy for Denny to get his win; glad that he got that. The night overall was really good. We were dominant in the day light and fell off a little in the darkness, had the mishap there on the restart but were able to get back up there.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third after dominating the second half of the race for his seventh top three finish of the season. Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.
Brad Keselowski finished sixth followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Johnson and Kevin Harvick.
There was a scary moment during the race when Paul Menard’s car caught fire. Sitting on pit road, the right rear tire would explode as the crew surrounded the car trying to put it out. Nobody was injured in the process.
“That was pretty wild,” Menard commented. “We were having a great day. Everybody stacked up on that restart and I got some damage. Some rubber got wrapped up around the axle and caught fire. I didn’t know it until there was a spark that came in on the window net. Then the damn wheel blew right off.”