Johnson on Ricky Hendrick: 'In those closing laps, he took me for a ride'
RELATED: Miami results " Final standings " Chase Grid SHOP: Johnson championship gear Jimmie Johnson could feel that something special was about to happen in those waning laps Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . His No. 48 Chevrolet had struggled throughout the day, considerably slower than the rest of the Championship 4 contenders. But on that final green-white-checkered attempt, Johnson took off like a rocket and didn't look back until taking the checkered flag -- and his seventh, record-tying championship. It was a phenomenon that left many stunned, including crew chief Chad Knaus, who just sat back in his chair atop the pit box with a smile. It was a surprise, a miracle, a legendary moment. It was Ricky Hendrick, Johnson said. "I swear, there was some intervention going on, there was a higher power involved," Johnson told NASCAR.com Tuesday morning. "... I was screaming at ( Ricky ) I needed his help on that last restart and the way we shot out and got going. "I took him along for the ride, but I think in those closing laps, he took me for a ride." The late son of team owner Rick Hendrick, Ricky Hendrick has been "along for the ride" for a seventh title with the team since Johnson first came up with the hashtag #Se7en at the Hendrick Motorsports ' annual Christmas party in December 2013, just after Johnson earned his sixth Sprint Cup Series title. "I was at the Hendrick Christmas party and it just so happened that year that Rick and Linda invited Ricky's favorite band to come in and play, which is O.A.R.," Johnson recalled. "... O.A.R. is playing, I'm watching Rick and Linda sing every word to every song ... I was in that space and reliving Ricky and my heart was full. And it dawned on me that he had a tattoo on his back that was 'Se7en' and spelled out how I've been using the hashtag. So, it hit me hard, right then and there." It took the team three years to be in the title mix again, but Johnson began to have an overwhelming, foretelling feeling this season was going to be special beginning at one special place. Martinsville Speedway . The track where he punched his ticket to the Championship 4 with a win on Oct. 30 -- and the track where Ricky Hendrick was headed when he lost his life in a tragic team plane accident on Oct. 24, 2004. "It was more than just the race itself -- when we won in Martinsville and you think back to when the plane crash happened," Johnson said. "When we won in Martinsville there was just this feeling that 'seven' was alive -- there was this great chance. "I stayed extremely calm in the weeks preparing (for Miami), through the course of the race and I just, I don't know -- I felt like something was going to happen and I was going to be OK with it, I didn't know what it was." The battle for #Se7en was uphill at first: Johnson started the race from the back of the field for unapproved adjustments. He made his way up to the top 10 quickly, but still struggled with the handling of the No. 48 machine, prompting Knaus to "try a bunch of (expletive)" with less than 100 laps to go. RELATED: Knaus closing in on big NASCAR record "I thought, 'All right, this is my moment to be a gracious loser,' " Johnson recalled. "I need to handle this the right way -- I'm going to shake someone else's hand today and handle this the right way. I'm going to have a chance to honor Ricky but it's different then.' "Then the final couple cautions happened, we put tires on, the 19 ( Carl Edwards ) and 22 ( Joey Logano ) wrecked and I'm like, 'Oh no, there's more. This might be what I think it is.' The next restart I get to second, I'm like, 'Oh, this is going to happen, this is really going to happen.' " RELATED: Late wreck ruins Edwards' title hopes Johnson restarted behind leader Kyle Larson , who led a race-high 132 laps, in the bottom lane. "Outside, it's your quarter," No. 48 spotter Earl Barban told Johnson on the radio in the final laps just before he passed Larson for the lead. "Clear, clear, clear, clear, clear, clear! "Come on baby, come home." That was the moment. "When I heard 'clear' off Turn 2, I just knew," Johnson said. "I literally had the goosebumps when I heard 'clear' and there was this register with 'This is why. This was going to happen.' It was insane." For Johnson, having Ricky -- a friend, fellow racer and member of the Hendrick Motorsports family -- along for the #Se7en ride made the accomplishment even more special. "It took us a couple years to get there but I've had the 'Se7en' and it's always taken me back to that place and just filled my heart up, trying to get seven, thinking of it on the Ricky level," Johnson said. "I miss him so much and it was fun way to pay my respects to him and also the others that were on the plane. I know it's meant a lot to Rick and Linda to have it be such a focal point, and so talked about and (to) bring the spirit back. "It's been the perfect thing for our Hendrick family."
Bruce: Throwbacks or not, Darlington chock full of lasting memories
RELATED: Paint schemes, then and now DARLINGTON, S.C. -- What year was it, 1985? The season Bill Elliott captured the Winston Million bonus the very first season it was put up for grabs by then-series sponsor RJ Reynolds? Ol' Bill, who would finish the season with an amazing 11 victories but lose the championship battle to Darrell Waltrip. Recollections of Elliott smiling broadly as "Million Dollar Bills" floated through the air in Victory Lane. That was probably it, the first time I covered a NASCAR premier series race at Darlington Raceway . The backstretch today was the frontstretch then, the big red press box and suites sitting there just outside Turn 1. It provided a grand view, possibly one of the best of any stops on the circuit. Watching the field roar out of the fourth turn, so incredibly close to the wall. Then flying down the frontstretch, hammer down and into Turn 1 to start the process all over again. Just sitting there. Soaking it all in. Overlooking history in the making. More than three decades. Time does fly, I suppose. The track's hugely popular throwback program, now in its second season, rekindles a lot of racing memories. Paint schemes that we haven't seen in years suddenly re-appear, roll out of the garage and in a sense, roll back the calendar. But then again the memories always stir a bit when it comes to Darlington. No throwback program is necessary. Maybe it's because the track is an honest-to-goodness landmark, cut out of the sandy soil by Harold Brasington and opened for business in 1950. It was NASCAR's first paved oval of more than 1 mile in length. Brasington had a vision and wasn't shy about pursuing it. But more than that he was also a kind and caring soul to all of us and I never make the trek down here for a race without thinking about him. The action on the track? Yeah, that stands out, too. But it wasn't always the kind of things you hoped to be writing about -- hard crashes and injuries could, and did, happen other places as well but a couple that occurred here haven't been forgotten. Neil Bonnett's crash in the spring race of 1990 is one of them. The extremely personable Bonnett was one of 10 drivers collected in the Turn 4 incident during that year's spring race. Briefly knocked unconscious, Bonnett was eventually transferred to the local hospital and hours later it was reported that he was suffering from amnesia. More than a decade later, it was Steve Park. The Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver was competing in a Busch (now XFINITY ) Series event when, under caution, his Chevrolet suddenly veered left and into the path of Larry Foyt. The impact was tremendous to have happened under caution. But the sadness of such instances doesn't completely overshadow the good times. Jeff Gordon 's Winston Million victory in 1997, the final year of that format, was the perfect bookend to that program's 13-year run. His battle with Jeff Burton in the closing laps of that race was as memorable as any that have unfolded on the 1.366-mile track. Speaking of Burton, there are recollections of his 1999 Darlington sweep in a pair of rain-shortened races here; toss in Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch bringing the fans to their feet with an absolutely amazing finish in 2003; and Regan Smith rising up with the then-small Furniture Row Racing operation to slay the field, and Carl Edwards in 2011. This year's Bojangles' Southern 500 , scheduled to get underway Sunday (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the 67th running of the legendary classic. I've seen some of the cars and heard many of the stories from several of the men who were there when the legend of Darlington began. For a lot of others, I've been there to witness it firsthand. It's been worth every minute of it.
Kenseth to continue Tide car's legacy at Darlington
RELATED: See all the schemes from 2016 " VOTE: Favorite Darlington scheme BUY TICKETS: Darlington When five drivers and an owner of the caliber of Ricky Craven , Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip, Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs get in one room, race fans can't help just hoping they won't stop telling stories. Thank Tide and Darlington Raceway 's throwback weekend for bringing together this entertaining and endearing group of racing royalty. Kenseth's throwback scheme for Labor Day Weekend's Bojangles' Southern 500 (Sept. 4, 6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) allows the orange, yellow and white Tide car to ride -- and contend for a win -- again. The Joe Gibbs Racing quartet, consisting of Kenseth, Kyle Busch , Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards , has racked up 10 wins in the 2016 season's first 22 races -- the most successful organization, thus far, in 2016. The iconic scheme brings back memories of victories for Craven , Rudd and Waltrip. "Matt's the only one who hasn't won in the Tide car," Craven pointed out. "No pressure, Matt," the other racers chimed in. Kenseth, however, isn't feeling too much pressure on the track yet with two wins in 2016 -- at Dover and Loudon -- and his Chase berth secured. But the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion did feel the gravitas of the racing greats gathered Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the unveiling of the No. 20 Tide Pods Toyota. "On a serious note, I really want to thank the three guys behind me, all legends in the sport," Kenseth said. "I've gotten to race with all three of them. "I'm a little concerned about Darlington, though. Not because of the track, but because of these guys. Ricky Rudd doesn't look like he's aged a day since he got out of the car. I know he can fit right in my seat and go drive the thing. So I'm a little worried about him at Darlington. Might have to bring security with me." "Does that mean we're just old?" Ricky Craven asked, referring to himself and Waltrip after Kenseth eliminated them as threats to steal his ride for the Southern 500. "I know Waltrip can't fit," Kenseth joked. Waltrip joined in the jostling but also got very sentimental. He recalled his victory in the Tide ride at Martinsville Speedway on Sept. 27, 1987, the day his daughter, Jessica, was born -- and the rose in a vase someone left in his car seat with a note that said, "Win for me, daddy." Gibbs joked that he's the perfect person to represent the sponsor because, "When I was 5 years old, Tide became a reality. You do the math." Tide is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The three retired racers worked the Tide brand representatives on hand, too, pushing hard to see the Tide car back on track full-time as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sponsor. Gibbs said for now it's a one-race deal, but JGR is honored to work with the brand that has been a part of racing for decades -- including being the detergent that goes in the Air Titans when they wash the tracks. Bringing back memories is the key to fans and race teams alike embracing the Darlington throwback weekends. The JGR and Tide team hopes the No. 20 will lead the pack in nostalgia as well as horsepower. "That orange car is going to make a splash at Darlington," Waltrip said. MORE: Reaction to paint scheme from the legends
Kenseth scheme paints picture of historic Darlington moment
VOTE: Favorite Darlington scheme " MORE: Relive the 'Tide Ride' making history BUY TICKETS: Darlington The final piece of the Joe Gibbs Racing Darlington throwback paint schemes puzzle fell into place Tuesday afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The #TideRide Returns for @TooToughToTame ! @JoeGibbsRacing @mattkenseth @AllWaltrip @RickyCravenESPN pic.twitter.com/UxBhCAzcFn — NASCAR Hall of Fame (@NASCARHall) August 16, 2016 Matt Kenseth pulled back the cover of his No. 20 Toyota Camry to reveal a Tide-influenced scheme that he'll run on Sept. 4 in the Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Tide has a rich history in NASCAR, including being on Darrell Waltrip's car for his 1989 Daytona 500 win, as well as a famous moment at Darlington -- in 2003, Ricky Craven , in his orange Tide car, beat Kurt Busch to the stripe by .002 seconds in a classic slam-bang finish. Ricky Rudd also ran the paint scheme for several seasons. In doing so, Kenseth will join Kyle Busch (No. 18, honoring Dale Jarrett), Denny Hamlin (No. 11, honoring Darrell Waltrip) and Carl Edwards (No. 19, honoring Tony Stewart ) in the JGR fleet of drivers. More than two dozen throwback paint schemes for this year's race have been announced. The throwback program launched last year and is expected to continue for the next several seasons. This year's theme honors the era of 1975-84. MORE: Legends banter about the scheme &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NSCS GarageCam gives one final look before Homestead finale
GarageCam host Matthew Dillner takes you inside the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage for the final look of the season before there's a champion in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jeff Gordon to join Cadillac team for Rolex 24 at Daytona
Four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon will make his return to the Rolex 24 At Daytona for the first time in 10 years as Wayne Taylor Racing on Thursday confirmed Gordon alongside full-season co-drivers Jordan and Ricky Taylor and endurance driver Max Angelelli as the driver lineup in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R for the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona. The race opens the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season on Jan. 28-29, 2017. Gordon's lone previous Rolex 24 appearance in 2007 came with the same team. He co-drove the No. 10 Pontiac Riley Daytona Prototype with Angelelli, Wayne Taylor and Jan Magnussen to a third-place result. "When I announced I would no longer be competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, my hope was that I would get an opportunity like this to compete again in such a prestigious event -- with Konica Minolta and Wayne Taylor Racing -- with the hopes of winning it this time," Gordon said. "I know that Ricky and Jordan are super-fast, and I believe it will be a very strong combination." Gordon, now an analyst on NASCAR on FOX telecasts, and the No. 10 team will be part of the debut race for the brand-new Cadillac DPi-V.R, which was officially unveiled Wednesday by the manufacturer. "I think it is exceptional to have Jeff back with us after 10 years," Angelelli said. "I look forward to sharing our new Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R racecar with him, discussing our setup and race strategy. It was great the first time -- we might have won that race if some things would have gone our way. Now that it's happening again, with the new car, it's going to be absolutely great." Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who finished third in the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype standings, are also looking forward to running with the NASCAR legend. "It used to be common to have NASCAR guys joining teams for the Rolex but, over recent years, it's become less and less frequent," Jordan Taylor said. " Jeff Gordon is a name that everyone knows worldwide. I can't wait to compare notes and feedback with such a legend of our sport. It's going to be an experience of a lifetime." "Having Jeff Gordon join the team is really a dream come true for all of us," added Ricky Taylor. "It is a huge compliment to how well-respected the team has become over the years for someone with the history and career of Jeff Gordon to want to be a part of it. I'm sure he will be a great addition to the lineup and hopefully we can all get our first Rolex 24 win together." The No. 10 entry will compete for the overall Rolex 24 race victory in the WeatherTech Championship's Prototype (P) class. It will be one of three Cadillac DPi-V.R race cars in the field, as three-time defending series champions Action Express Racing confirmed its plans to field a pair of the new race cars earlier Thursday morning. Gordon, who has participated in private test sessions with the team in recent weeks, is expected to join the team for the upcoming IMSA-sanctioned test at Daytona International Speedway in Dec. 13-14, as well as the three-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona test on Jan. 6-8, 2017 prior to the race on the final weekend of January. &lt;/p&gt;
Relive the 'Tide Ride' making history
Relive the drama as Ricky Craven drives the 'Tide Ride' and battles Kurt Busch to the checkered flag at Darlington Raceway in 2003 to create the closest finish in NASCAR history.
Kenseth unveils throwback 'Tide Ride' for Darlington
Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Ricky Craven and Darrell Waltrip unveil the No. 20 Tide Ride throwback paint scheme for Darlington. Catch Kenseth on track at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, September 4th.
Mixed reviews for Keselowski's restart
RELATED: NASCAR official: We believe we did our job today LOUDON, N.H. -- Race restarts have been a hot-button issue in NASCAR this season and ironically, one of the teams most vocal about restart officiating was penalized for an illegal start Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Team Penske driver -- and Chase contender -- Brad Keselowski was ruled to have jumped the restart on Lap 242 and penalized with a pass-through penalty that dropped him from second place at the time to 25th. NASCAR officials say that video shows Keselowski's Ford accelerating through the marked restart area ahead of then race leader Greg Biffle 's Ford and called the decision to penalize Keselowski "very clear cut in our mind.'' "We did get 100 percent confirmation from our official that was on the ground as well as by all the data that was available to us,'' said Richard Buck, NASCAR's managing director of the Sprint Cup Series. The 2012 Cup champ Keselowski said he felt like NASCAR was making an example of him saying he was "the first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I don't pass anyone, so that's a new one." "But we moved on and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that hopefully will make our Dover (race) a little bit easier, so that was good," said Keselowski, who rallied to a 12th place finish. Biffle, for his part after the race, seemed a little puzzled by the call as well. "To be perfectly honest with you, I didn't notice," Biffle said. "I saw Brad kind of going a little bit and I waited until about the middle of the zone maybe. I didn't go right at the two marker, but I maintained my speed and I didn't speed up or slow down and I took off when I felt like it was time for me to go. "I wasn't really paying that close attention to the 2 (Keselowski) or what he was doing. We were pretty even getting down into (Turn) 1. I don't knew what they called him for, but I'll have to take a look back I guess. "I feel bad for Brad. I wasn't playing any games. I wasn't doing anything. I just went in between those two marks like we're supposed to.'' Keselowski recovered well from the penalty and is ranked eighth of the 16 Chase drivers with next week's elimination round after Dover cutting the field to 12. Still his team owner Roger Penske wondered what might have been on Sunday as Keselowski ran up front most of the afternoon. "I didn't see it, but his car was ahead of the 16 (Biffle) at the second line and I guess that's how they called it,'' Penske said. "He (Keselowski) didn't pass him, so I thought he was all right. I've got to go back and look at it. The race is over; there's nothing we can do about it. "I don't think he tried to jump it all. The way it looked in the box and they're going to call it when the first car doesn't cross the second line ahead. We'll just have to deal with it. Brad did a great job. The car ran well. We were running second at the time, with the 4 ( Kevin Harvick ) running out of fuel it would have been interesting. We're still in decent shape going into the next phase.'' WATCH: Keselowski black-flagged after restart Buck spoke with reporters after the race to further explain NASCAR's position on the restarts. He said there has been a lot of communication about the standard and the punishment. He said officials even warned teams on the radio during the race when it looked like the start was in position to be compromised. "We have made the rules very clear to everybody in the last couple drivers meetings and made sure everyone was informed,'' Buck said. "In fact today during the race, we reminded them before the race and during each restart of the rules. "If we saw something creeping toward the end we informed the spotter and crew chief so they knew what we were seeing and that's what brought us to the decision. "We're very clear and the drivers agree. The language is: there is a double red mark on the wall and a single red mark on the wall. The leader is the control car and has the right to restart the race and he must restart the race in that zone. The 16 was the leader at that point. The 2 car restarted before the 16 did." While NASCAR felt confident in its decision, it took some criticism from others on social media during the race. Ricky Craven , a NASCAR analyst for ESPN and a former Cup driver called the ruling "a horrible decision" because Keselowski did not ultimately pass Biffle on the start. A precedent was set today black flagging the highest running Chase driver @keselowski For gaining nothing ? 6:15p @SportsCenter — Ricky Craven (@RickyCravenESPN) September 27, 2015 Keselowski actually brought up the subject of restarts two weeks ago in the pre-Chase media availability. "I have said it before but I still view restarts as rock-paper-scissors and you have to counter the moves of the person next to you,'' Keselowski said prior to the Chicagoland Chase opener last week. "As has happened it starts with the leader and the zone not being allowed to dictate it. If the guy in second place is lagging back then the only defense to that is to go early, both of which are illegal by the definition. Neither of which have been consistently called as an infraction. If one guy lags back and beats you when you do everything legal, then you have to defend it. That is your job. "I felt like as the leader at Darlington, I probably had half a dozen or more attempts at controlling the restart and I kept the lead the majority but not 100 percent of the time. The few times where I lost the lead it was very obvious that the car next to me had lagged back significantly and there was no call made. That forces your hand the next time you have the lead to do something to react to it. In a sense it is kind of vigilante justice. That is just how you have to play it." This time, however, Keselowski overcame the penalty and is still in good shape for the postseason. "I'm really proud of my guys to come back and get a top-12 out of that without getting another yellow or catching any other breaks after the black flag,'' Keselowski said. "I'm really proud of my guys.''
NASCAR.com's Holly Cain wins NMPA Spirit Award
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Veteran motorsports writer Holly Cain has been chosen as the recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s annual Spirit Award for 2015. A resident of Lakeland, Fla., Cain has covered motorsports for more than 25 years during which time she has worked for numerous publications, including the Tampa Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer as well as AOL.com and FOXSports.com. Currently a senior writer for NASCAR.com, she has been recognized for her reporting on multiple occasions, earning awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) as well as the NMPA. Diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2014, Cain has shown tremendous courage and an incredibly positive attitude while engaged in her difficult battle. She has been a long-time supporter of the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and continues to participate in fundraising and other efforts to bring awareness to the fight against breast cancer. The NMPA Spirit Award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports. Each year, the NMPA membership selects four quarterly winners, with an overall winner chosen from the four candidates. Cain was the second quarter recipient of the award. Others recognized with quarterly awards this past year were NASCAR television broadcaster Steve Byrnes (first quarter), IndyCar driver Justin Wilson (third quarter) and four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon . Cain was presented the award Jan. 17 during the NMPA’s annual convention and awards dinner in Concord, N.C. Overall winners of the NMPA Spirit Award: Year – Recipient 2015 – Holly Cain 2014 – Lynda Petty 2013 – Marcy Scott 2012 – Andy Hillenburg 2011 – Jeff Gordon 2010 – Jim Hunter 2009 – David Poole 2008 – T. Taylor Warren 2007 – Bill France Jr. 2006 – Benny Parsons 2005 – Morgan Shepherd 2004 – Kyle and Pattie Petty 2003 – Bob Latford 2002 – Larry Hicks 2001 – Ricky Craven 2000 – Kyle Petty 1999 – Clay Earles 1998 – Mark Martin 1997 – Dave Marcis 1996 – Dale Earnhardt 1995 – Ernie Irvan 1994 – Ernie Irvan 1993 – Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki 1992 – Davey Allison Family