It could have been so different for Carl Edwards, as Jimmie Johnson wins the 2016 Sprint Cup, claiming a seventh title an in explosive finale.
After a period of inconsistency leading up to the antepenultimate race on 6 November, Edwards qualified in ninth behind 2014 champion Kevin Harvick. With his all-round versatility and composure seen as a greater asset than Edwards’ high-powered Joe Gibbs car, it was Harvick who unquestionably had the attentions of gamblers worldwide ahead of the 2016 Sprint Cup endgame.
Needing a win to proceed, Harvick was strangely anonymous, with Logano establishing himself as a strong leader in the first half. Aided by a strong car, Edwards had made good progress from ninth, setting up an intriguing second half.
With 72 laps remaining, there was major drama as a collision between three drivers – all of whom had long been eliminated from Sprint Cup contention – complicated matters. However, it would be up to Mother Nature to declare Edwards the victor, as he led when severe rainfall halted proceedings with 41 laps remaining.
A PROBLEM HALVED
With finishes of 2nd and 1st in the two races preceding the Homestead finale, expectation of a first Sprint Cup title for Joey Logano was high. However, racing pedigree won the day, and the 20 November instead heralded the seventh coronation of Jimmie Johnson as king of Sprint Cup racing.
Of the four drivers in contention for the cup, it was defending champion Kyle Busch who qualified highest in 9th place, with Edwards in 10th. Logano and Johnson occupied 13th and 14th respectively. With a tight battle from the grid, it was all to play for as an enthralling season finally reached its conclusion.
The first half largely correlated to expectations, with the pace largely dictated by Logano and Edwards, although a now-eliminated Harvick was an interminable thorn in their sides. However, it would be in the closing ten laps that the destination of the cup was decided.
At this time, Edwards and Logano were still duelling for supremacy. Seeing Logano’s progress, Edwards had no choice but to attempt a block, but in doing so caught the nose of the #22 car and met the wall with sickening finality.
Logano too would see his interest in the cup ended, with said manoeuvre prompting him to collide with Brad Keselowski.
JOHNSON MAKES IT A MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Having earlier pitted needlessly for a suspected puncture, Busch could do little other than count down the moments that remained of his reign. He was a mere onlooker as Johnson not only tore up the track, but claimed a last-gasp overtime win at the expense of Kyle Larson.
After being crowned the 2016 Sprint Cup champion, Johnson was understandably overcome with emotion, saying:
“I wouldn’t be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance. From my dirt days – my parents first and foremost. My brothers. My wife and family today. Car owners, sponsors, Chevrolet, Lowe’s, so many amazing people along the way that believed in me to give me this chance.”
Those “dirt days” were ultimately the foundation of greatness, and every ounce of belief has been repaid with aplomb. Seven titles from fifteen seasons at the highest level is a phenomenal return that is unlikely to be repeated in the future.