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Jimmie, Yes! But it was a night of survival, en route to that fourth NASCAR title

  Jimmie Johnson moments after winning a record fourth straight NASCAR championship, in Sunday night's Ford 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Jimmie Johnson capped an historic championship season with an unexpectedly difficult Sunday 400, yes winning that fourth straight NASCAR Cup title – with a fifth-place finish – but not without a hard battle.
   "It may take a while to sink in, because my mind is wandering right now," Johnson said. "But to do something guys like Petty, Yarborough and Allison never did, man, it's unbelievable.
   "After Texas (where he crashed) I was devastated.
   "It was hair-raising here at times. But I made it through it. And we were coming at the end."
   However, it wasn't teammate Mark Martin, the only man with a shot at stopping Johnson's title charge, but rather fierce and heavy traffic among desperate and hungry rivals that kept Johnson on the edge of his seat.
    Hard-luck Denny Hamlin won the race, coming from deep in the starting grid and then sprinting away from the field down the stretch, winning by nearly three seconds over the Richard Childress duo Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick. Martin finished 12th; Jeff Gordon finished sixth.
   Hamlin's win, Toyota's first here, followed a ragged playoff run, which included three DNFs in the previous six events.
  "I promise you in the next couple of years we're going to win the championship," Hamlin said.
   Actually Hamlin finished ahead of Johnson in five of the 10 chase races.
   "I think we're showing we have the strength to compete with those guys," Hamlin said. "Just those DNFs…."
    Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief for all four titles, was certainly right when he called this "a great race," not necessarily because his team survived to win the championship but because angry, hungry racers took out all their frustrations on each other throughout the race and Johnson couldn't get out of the thick of all that.
   "Jimmie Johnson is the most underrated driver in this garage; he can do things in a race car I've never seen done," Knaus said.
    "We had a really fast race car; I think we could have won it tonight. But we wanted to make sure we kept fuel in the car; that's why we made that one stop.
   The stop in question put Johnson out of synch with many front runners, and that left Johnson in heavy, wild traffic most of the the 3-1/2-hour race.
    Burton and Harvick, after a very down season, rebounded at the end of the 10 months, and both had a shot at this win.
   "It's been a really good four weeks," Burton said after one of his best runs, with new crew chief Todd Berrier. "Todd gave me a car fast enough to win the race; I just didn't know what to tell him to make the car just right."

   Jimmie Johnson, a blur, at times, on a beautiful Miami night (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The Homestead-Miami Ford 400, 10th and final race of NASCAR's championship chase



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