HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin completed career firsts at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday night. And not in a good way.
Johnson’s streak dated back to 2002 when he won three races in his rookie season in the Cup Series. He’d won no fewer than two races in a season (2011) until 2018. He had just two top-five finishes throughout the entirety of this season.
“I’ve had such a fortunate career and I would have loved to keep that streak alive, clearly that is not the case,” Johnson said. “Instead of reflecting on this year and how bad it was because I know that reality, I’ve been living it first-hand. I just think it’s important for me and the team right now to look back on what we have done together over 17 years together. New sponsor, new crew chief, whole new rules package, you know, 2019 is going to be a clean start for myself and this No. 48 team.”
Johnson’s longtime sponsor Lowe’s is not returning for 2019. Neither is Chad Knaus, who will be William Byron’s crew chief next season.
Hamlin will have a new crew chief in 2019 too. He revealed Friday that Mike Wheeler wouldn’t return next season. Wheeler became Hamlin’s crew chief in 2016 and the duo won their first race together when Hamlin beat Martin Truex Jr. by inches in the Daytona 500.
Hamlin entered the Cup Series full-time in 2006 and won two races in that season. But while he scored four pole positions — including on Sunday night — he led just 380 laps and completed the fewest laps in any season in which he’s competed in all of the races.
Ford wins first Cup Series title since 2004
Logano’s title is the first time a Ford driver has won the Cup Series title since Kurt Busch won the inaugural version of NASCAR’s playoff format in 2004. In the time between Busch’s title and Logano’s, Chevrolet won 10 titles thanks to Johnson’s seven, two from Tony Stewart and one from Kevin Harvick and Toyota won with Kyle Busch in 2015 and Martin Truex Jr. in 2017.
Logano’s win is also the second for Team Penske in the Cup Series. Penske won the 2012 Cup Series with Brad Keselowski driving a Dodge in the manufacturer’s final season at the top level of NASCAR.
Rodney Childers was really involved leading up to the race
Kevin Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers was suspended for Sunday’s race because of an illegal spoiler on the car at Texas. Childers was in attendance on Sunday and was able to celebrate with the team had Harvick won the title.
Harvick finished third, so that awkward scenario didn’t come to fruition. But maybe “suspension” is an awkward word in the first place when it comes to crew chief punishments in NASCAR. Childers had a revealing post-race tweet that detailed his level of involvement with the team’s Homestead preparations.
8 hours straight on my computer yesterday afternoon and into the night running sim laps with @DaxGerringer .. Made the changes this morning and drove to the front. Really proud of our effort all weekend. And proud of @KevinHarvick .. Just didn’t need that caution at the end.
— Rodney Childers (@RodneyChilders4) November 19, 2018
What if Homestead was a race that didn’t have stages?
This is a proposal that has no chance of becoming reality in NASCAR’s stage-racing era. And maybe it’s a moot point with the new 2019 rules increasing downforce and lowering top speeds on the cars in the future.
Sunday’s race, like the ones in the few years prior, was fascinating from a strategy and tire wear perspective. The age of Homestead’s pavement means fresh tires are worth two seconds a lap and, as the tires fall off, drivers can run anywhere from the inside white line to inches from the wall.
That leads to situations where drivers will pit earlier than they need to fuel-wise to get the speed advantage from fresh tires. And, as tires age, a driver like Kyle Larson can be the fastest car on the track while running against the wall.
While Larson’s chances at the win ended because he hit the wall and had a flat tire in the third stage, his progress toward the front was a sight to behold. Larson didn’t have a very good car on new tires or in any groove except for the top. But as tires aged and he moved up inches from the wall, he would routinely be the fastest car on the track.
The fun watching Larson move toward the front got halted by the conclusions of stage one and stage two. Larson was second in stage one because of that long run speed and passed Harvick for the stage two win on the final lap.
Had the field not been reset after those stages it would have been cool to see Larson drive away from the field and the pit strategies that would ensue to try to catch him. The cat-and-mouse game at tracks with tire falloff and multiple grooves is a rare find in NASCAR’s current state. That’s why it’s so enjoyable when it happens.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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