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Johnson cruises to third title in a row

November 17, 2008|Associated Press

HOMESTEAD, FLA. — Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus never slowed down enough to consider what a record-tying third consecutive championship would mean to their legacy.

Don't count on them doing it now.

After tying Cale Yarborough's 30-year mark as the only driver with three titles in a row, Johnson and his crew chief were already thinking about going after No. 4.

"I could go race again next week and start the season and go for four," Johnson said after Sunday's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "It's on our minds. It's not that we're chasing a number, we just know what we're capable of. We know we can do better. It's a search to do the best we can."

Knaus, the first crew chief in series history to win three in a row, even offered to report to work today to start their pursuit.

He was only partly kidding.

"We want four. Why not? That's why we're here," Knaus said. "We can definitely bid for four. Give me a reason why not."

Carl Edwards could certainly offer a reason or two after winning Sunday's race -- his series-best ninth victory of the season -- only to fall 69 points short of wresting the Sprint Cup trophy away from Johnson. Edwards led a race-high 157 laps, and won despite running out of gas as he crossed the finish line.

Johnson, who won seven races, won the title by finishing 15th Sunday.

"We won more races than Jimmie and we ran with him when he won," Edwards said. "I know they'll enjoy this championship, but they knew we were here."

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 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 -- 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. Yarborough earned a combined $1.63 million in all three of his championship seasons.

When Edwards won back-to-back races at Atlanta and Texas to take a bite out of Johnson's points lead, Johnson rebounded with a win at Phoenix last week to make Sunday's drive a mere formality. He needed only to finish 36th or better to win the title, but got off to a rocky start when he qualified 30th.

He wasted no time driving through the field at the start of the race, and picked up at least one position a lap at the start. He would have finished higher, but he stopped for fuel near the end.

Edwards 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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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Final standings

*--* RK DRIVER PTS BEHIND 1. Jimmie Johnson 6,684 -- 2. Carl Edwards 6,615 69 3. Greg Biffle 6,467 217 4. Kevin Harvick 6,408 276 5. Clint Bowyer 6,381 303 6. Jeff Burton 6,335 349 7. Jeff Gordon 6,316 368 8. Denny Hamlin 6,214 470 9. Tony Stewart 6,202 482 10. Kyle Busch 6,186 498 11. Matt Kenseth 6,184 500 12. D. Earnhardt Jr. 6,127 557 *--*

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