By admin | November 21, 2010
By Richard Allen
Jimmie Johnson came into the Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway trailing Denny Hamlin and barely ahead of Kevin Harvick in the Sprint Cup standings. However, a driver who has won four consecutive championships going in has to be considered a favorite as long as he is mathematically alive.
Until Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports team proves it can be beaten, it remains up to his challengers to top them. In the case of the 2010 title battle, Johnson would emerge as the winner when his two chief contestants made significant mistakes over the course of the 400 mile race.
Johnson showed from the very beginning of the weekend that he was the experienced championship driver and his challengers looked as if they were slightly out of their element in the brightness of the Sprint Cup spotlight.
The four time champion posted a strong lap in Friday’s qualifying session to place himself sixth on the starting grid while Harvick qualified 28th and Hamlin 37th. But it was after the race began that each of the two challengers would make critical errors while Johnson remained rock steady throughout the event.
Hamlin cracked first when on lap 25 he made contact with Greg Biffle on the backstretch and spun through the infield grass. As a result, the front splitter on his Toyota was bent. From that point on, the defending race winner’s car never seemed like a serious contender to run at the front of the field.
That mistake was compounded late in the race when the driver stayed on the track during a caution period after crew chief Mike Ford called him to the pits. Hamlin faded as those with fresher tires passed him by.
Harvick charged forward from his mid-pack starting spot to run near the lead. He spent a number of laps as the front runner of the three championship hopefuls. During a round of pit stops in the midst of a caution period it looked as if Harvick’s crew had provided him with an opportunity to close the points gap between he and the other two drivers.
The Richard Childress Racing team put their driver out first, which would allow him a bonus of five points. However, bad news immediately came over the radio. Harvick had been deemed too fast entering pit road which negated his bonus and sent him to the back of the pack.
In the race’s final stages, Johnson roared to the front where he closely pursued eventual winner Carl Edwards. At the same time, Hamlin struggled with a poor handling car and dropped back to a final finishing position of 14th.
Harvick came back from his penalty to finish 3rd but he had one more issue before the checkered flag waved. On lap 244, the #29 car bumped Kyle Busch’s machine in the back and sent the #18 Toyota hard into the inside wall. In the end, Harvick would come up short as he needed to finish well ahead of Johnson rather than one spot behind him.
Ultimately, it was Johnson who handled the pressure of a championship showdown and his competition who made enough mistakes to assure him a fifth consecutive title.
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