HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson won both the battle and the war at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale and claiming his seventh Sprint Cup Series championship, tying NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all-time.
"It's big," Johnson said. "It has different meanings. The number seven has a very special place in my heart with Rick Hendrick (car owner), as a lot of people know. For some reason, I just felt good and calm today, and things just kind of unfolded at the end for us. I know it was help from above. In my heart I wanted to believe it would happen. It has, and I just can't believe it."
Kyle Larson was the race leader on an overtime restart for a two-lap green-flag sprint to the finish with Johnson lined up next to him on the front row. Johnson took his first and only lead on the final restart of the race. Larson finished second.
Carl Edwards was in position to claim his first Sprint Cup after taking second from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and fellow-championship contender Kyle Busch with 24 laps to go. As Larson led, Edwards maintained his second position in the running order until the yellow flag waved for a Dylan Lupton spin with 15 laps remaining.
But when the race restarted with 10 laps to go, Edwards and another Chaser, Joey Logano, made contact that resulted in a larger multi-car wreck that collected the cars of Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Regan Smith. Truex's car burst into flames.
Afterward, Edwards accepted some of the blame for the incident. On the restart, Logano got a run and Edwards attempted to block him. Edwards retired from the race, but Logano was able to continue with significant damage to his car after NASCAR red-flagged the race for nearly 31 minutes for track clean-up.
"I think it (blame) was shared," Edwards said. "You know what I mean? I think it was just racing. I haven't seen a real close-up view, but the way I had it figured is, first of all, that was the race of my life up to that point. That was a lot of fun and Joey was so good on the short run. I don't know how he got that restart. It was a really good restart. I thought we were -- I thought everything was going to work out and Jason (Hedlesky, spotter) told me he was looking low and I -- he told me, basically, he was there. I knew what Jason was saying, and I just pushed the issue as far as I could, because I figured that was the race."
When the race restarted, the yellow flag waved, again, within a lap for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wreck. In the short time the race ran green, Johnson got up to second, and Logano moved from eighth to third with the four new tires he took during the previous caution.
Larson took his first lead of the race when he got by Edwards on lap 118. After trading the lead back-and-forth with Edwards for several laps, Larson took command of the race when he took another lead from Edwards on lap 144. He led most of the remaining laps over the course of the 267-lap race.
Larson wasn't the only non-Chaser to spend significant laps up front. A week after being eliminated from the Chase at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 13, Kevin Harvick started on the pole and led a total of 79 laps, mostly in the first 80 laps of the race.
The four Championship Four drivers -- Busch, Edwards, Logano and Johnson -- ran inside the top-10 for most of the race, primarily occupying most of the spots inside the top-five of the running order. For Busch and Johnson, though, the race wasn't error-free.
Johnson started the race in the back, despite qualifying 14th, because of an unapproved body modification. He passed 10 cars on the first lap and was inside the top-10 by lap 30. A couple of slow pit stops played parts in keeping Johnson in the back half of the top-10 throughout most of the race, most commonly running just outside the top-five in sixth.
"Oh my gosh; there is no, no way on earth," Johnson said. "Just beyond words. Just didn't think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs. Luck came our way, and we were able to win the race and win the championship."
Busch was off the lead lap temporarily as the result of an unscheduled pit stop for a perceived flat right-front tire on lap 136. His crew on pit road, though, couldn't find a problem with the tire.
After the unscheduled stop, Busch stayed out when the rest of the race field cycled through green-flag stops about 15 laps later. Before Busch needed to stop, again, under green, the yellow flag waved for debris while Busch ran fifth. He was able to maintain his position as he, along with his fellow-competitors, pitted under the yellow.
Harvick finished third, Logano was fourth and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five. Busch, the third and final Chaser on-track at the end of the race, finished sixth.
"It was eventful to say the least," Logano said. "I hate being that close to a championship and not getting it. The team did a great job all day. We had a good race and put ourselves in position to win."
NOTES: Jimmie Johnson's win Sunday was his fifth of the season, making him the winningest driver for the season. ... Both Tony Stewart and Brian Scott made what is expected to be their last-career Sprint Cup Series starts Sunday. One of the 2016 Championship Four drivers, Carl Edwards, tied Stewart in the 2011 season-ending point standings, but Stewart was crowned champion for the third and final time by virtue of a tiebreaker. ... The 2016 Ford EcoBoost 400 was the last race under the Sprint Cup Series banner. Monster Energy is rumored to be a frontrunner to replace Sprint, but the new entitlement sponsor for the NASCAR premier series has yet to be announced. ... Kyle Busch won last year's Ford EcoBoost 400 en route to his first Sprint Cup championship. The eventual champion won the Homestead-Miami Speedway season-finale in each of the two previous years under the Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination format.