Jimmie Johnson makes NASCAR History, wins 4th Championship, Denny Hamlin wins the race
When it finally came time for the green flag to fly, there was no doubt about it, the fans and the drivers just wanted it to get underway. In three short hours the 2009 Championship would be decided.
Opening ceremonies and pre-race chatter done, at 3:33pm ET the cars headed to the green flag and the first lap of the final race of the season, Jimmie Johnson leading the way. Jimmie jumped right out to the front to lead the first lap, grabbing 5 bonus points and getting that out of the way, meaning he only had to finish 27th or better to win the Championship. Marcos Ambrose proved to be the spoiler, early on, settling into second spot, between Jimmie and Mark Martin.
The non-Chasers and those Chasers with no chance were going for broke, with Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Martin Truex Jr. in his final race for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, all battling in the top ten. The top three in the Chase, Jimmie, Mark and Jeff were not quitting though, and had settled in to the middle of the top ten.
Marcos Ambrose, so strong in the early part of the race, had had tire issues and gone many laps down. He brought out the first caution at lap 82 when he got too close to the wall and into the marbles. Pit stops ensued, with Kurt Busch being the big gainer and Truex Jr and Dale Jr being the biggest losers.
And the green flag flew again, with Montoya moving forward, a man on a mission. Jeff Gordon was moving in the opposite direction, with a suspected flat tire. The team was reluctant to bring him in, of course, but he fell back to 15th before the tire pressures increased and Jeff got back up to speed..
By lap 100, there was no longer sun on the track and cars that had been slower started moving forward while those who hadn't been running strong seemed to fall off just a little. The second caution flew when the 34 car blew a tire. All the drivers pitted and strategy games began in earnest.
Emotions showed for Jimmie Johnson during the caution laps, as he requested his spotter speak with the 33 spotter. He felt that Clint Bowyer was racing him a little too hard, and wanted to pass that message on. Chad Knaus spoke up and told the spotter to stay right where he was, not to start anything. When the green flag flew again, Jimmie found out he hadn't seen anything yet, with both Clint and Juam Pablo Montoya racing him hard. Fortunately for Jimmie, Marcos Ambrose brought out the third caution. Dale Earnhardt Jr spent a lot of time in the pits, trying to fix his car. Jr had gotten into the wall at least twice so far in the race and, the team thought, had knocked the setup out.
Jimmie found himself surrounded by agressive drivers when the green flag flew again, being chased by Tony, Juan and Kyle Busch. Jimmie just tried to stay out of the way when Juan and Tony made contact with Montoya gettng the worst of the hit, hitting the wall after he cut down a tire. The caution flew and everyone came in, but Elliott Sadler didn't even make it to the pits. Paul Menard slowed dramatically at the entrance to pit road, and the most bizarre chain reaction followed, with the 43, along with the 19 suffering race ending damage. Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon were also involved.
Good news for Tony Stewart, his car wasn't seriously damaged in the contact with Juan, but the 42 Target car needed extensive repairs and remained in the garage.
Kevin Harvick and the rest of the RCR cars continued their dominance, replacing the Roush Fenway Racing cars from last year. Johnson, Martin and Smoke were back outside the top twenty on the restart, struggling to get through the pack.
Coming to the halfway point of the race, the leader was Kurt Bush, with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin following while Jeff was running 7th , Mark and Jimmie were back fighting their way through the pack, having moved into the teens. Dale Earnhardt Jr cut a tire and pitted, losing a lap and his hopes for a win before the end of the season.