1. Johnson wins NASCAR Chase for the Championship
2. L’Estage and Nathalie Richard are Canadian rally champs
3. Big day for Canadian karters
As was the case a week ago in Formula One, when Sebastien Vettel won the world championship of drivers by going out and winning the final Grand Prix of the 2010 season, so it was with Jimmie Johnson on Sunday, who put his head down and drove to his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Although Carl Edwards won the Ford 400 season finale, Johnson finished second in the race, which was good enough to win the title over Denny Hamlin, who was 39 points behind when the final figures were tallied, and Kevin Harvick, who ended up trailing by 41.
Johnson was enormously excited at the checkers, whooping and hollering over the radio to his crew chief and team members: "Unbelievable! Yeah! You guys are the best!"
One reason why Johnson was overly elated was because he had to come from behind to win his fifth straight championship – a record, incidentally, that will likely never be matched as three consecutives were the most anyone could put together before.
Going into the final race, Hamlin was leading the championship with Johnson second (15 behind) and Harvick third (46 in arrears). It was a situation that Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, had not faced in winning their four previous championships.
So they had to hunt down Hamlin and pass him and then keep him behind, which they did successfully. As Knaus said: "We had to come down here and beat ‘em, and we beat ‘em."
Hamlin didn’t do his own cause any good by, first, qualifying poorly (he started the race in 37th place) and, second, running into Greg Biffle’s car on the 24th lap, which resulted in a spin and damage to the front of his car.
Although he initially complained to his crew that "the 16 came right down on me (which was not true, as TV replays showed)," he’d calmed down enough following the race to explain that the accident had knocked the toe out (toe settings determine straight-line stability and corner handling) and "the car was never the same after that."
Harvick, on the other hand, did everything he said he’d do, which included sending Kyle Busch for a ride into the inside guardrail when Busch the Younger drifted up into his path, expecting Harvick to lift, which didn’t happen.
While Harvick’s aggressiveness was admirable, his speeding ticket on pit road was not and it likely cost him second place in the championship. If he hadn’t been sent to the rear of the field as penalty, he might either have won the race or finished ahead of Johnson, which might not have won him the overall title but would have had him ahead of Hamlin in the final points (6583 for Hamlin, 6581 for Harvick).
Oh, well. As he said: "We went down swinging."
Unlike last Sunday’s F1 race, which was a bit of a bore after Vettel went into cruise control and Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber appeared content to trundle around behind Vitaly Petrov (except for a couple of half-hearted attempts to pass by Alonso), the Sprint Cup race was full of tension until the final checkers.
Yes, Johnson was in second place and in the catbird seat for the last 20 laps, but this is NASCAR and one never knows when a tire will go flat or a leader will come upon a wreck happening back in the pack.
Anyone who remembers Dale Earnhardt apparently winning the Daytona 500 in 1990, only to have a tire go down midway through the third turn on the last lap, knows you don’t count your chickens in NASCAR until you cross the finish line for the final time.
Okay, one of these years, somebody driving for some other team will beat Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.
But they’ve been saying that since he won his first title and it hasn’t happened yet.
Maybe — maybe — next year.
– Sebastien Vettel is world F1 champion, Dario Franchitti is the IZOD IndyCar Series champion and Jimmie Johnson is the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
For all intents and purposes, racing is finished for 2010 (although the German Touring Car Championship remains to be determined, with the final race of the season scheduled for next Sunday in Shanghai. Canadian Bruno Spengler is in the lead, so cross fingers for him).
Which means, however, that for the first time since last February, there will be no live racing on television next Sunday afternoon.
What ever will we do?
– NASCAR should find a way to end the season in a place other than Homestead, Fla. The track is okay, but as a tourist destination, it is the pits.
The best thing about Homestead is that it’s only 60 miles away from Fort Lauderdale.
– Kevin Harvick was interviewed post-race while holding the ever-present bottle of Coca-Cola — a product placement that is the most irritating of all product placements.
When the interview was over, but while the camera was still on, Harvick handed the Coke to someone and accepted a bottle of water.
The drivers might have to hold it but they won’t drink that stuff and that might tell you something.
– It looked like a full house at the Homestead-Miami Speedway but NASCAR’s final race of the season wasn’t on network TV in the U.S. and that is another problem for the sanctioning body.
As attendance has fallen, and TV ratings have dropped, long-time sponsors are turning away from the sport. For instance, Sunday was Jeff Gordon’s last race with DuPont on his car; next season, he’ll be racing in support of U.S. food banks (yes, it’s come to that).
As NASCAR falters, IndyCar seems to be gathering momentum with more and more announcements being made concerning 2012.
It’s like a boxing match. The challenger knocked the old champ down and has been dancing around the ring, arms upraised in triumph.
But the old champ is getting up off the canvas. The challenger has been too busy mugging to the crowd to notice.
He’d better be careful. If he doesn’t watch it, the old champion’s going to deliver a knockout punch.
Ask anybody in the fight game about that scenario. It’s only happened in the ring – oh, about a thousand times before.
Triple Crown for Canadian rally champions
Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard of Ste-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., drove their Rockstar Energy Drink-sponsored Mitsubishi to a decisive win in Saturday’s 40th Rally of the Tall Pines, the final round of the Canadian Rally Championship Presented by Subaru and supported by Yokohama.
The win is their third Canadian Rally Championship and combined with their Rally America and North American Rally Cup titles makes them only the second team ever to win all three titles in the same year.
"I'm so happy that we've done it," L'Estage said after the event, which is held each year in Bancroft.
"The car was so good all season, and my family and sponsors have all been very supportive. I am so happy that I can show my appreciation by winning every rally title there is in North America."
Second place in both the event and the championship went to Craig Henderson and Lyne Murphy of New Richmond, Que. By finishing second, the team won the manufacturer’s title for Subaru.
Bruno Carré and Yvan Joyal of Lavla, Que., who won the opening round of the six-rally 2010 season and led the point standings for much of the year, finished third.
Pat Richard of Squamish, B.C. and Alan Ockwell of Toronto were forced out with a broken suspension. They had gone into the rally in second place, only two points behind L’Estage and Nathalie Richard.
"Congratulations to Antoine and Nathalie on their win," said Pat Richard, who was seeking his third consecutive national championship.
"We've done so well in the past, it's tough not to be able to continue that trend. This rally was really hard on us, and we wanted to win, but sometimes that's just not how things go."
Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard have developed into one of the most dominant teams in North America, winning six of the last seven rallies they entered and earning the U.S. title in their first full season south of the border.
The 2011 Canadian Rally Championship season will start in Maniwaki, Que., with the Rallye Perce Neige next February.
The Canadian Rally Championship is made up of six events held nationwide in a season that extends from February to November. The series is presented by Subaru Canada, supported by Yokohama Tire Canada and features contingency programs from Subaru Canada and Mitsubishi Canada.
The Canadian Association of Rallysport (CARS) is the official sanctioning body for rallying in Canada.
My thanks to Keith Morison, who’s in charge of media relations for the championship, for supplying the information published here.
As well as an excellent journalist, Morison – of Calgary – is also a pretty good rally competitor himself, finishing fourth in the Tall Pines with Martin Rowe of Whistler, B.C. driving.
Canadian karters show the world
It was an unbelievable day for Canadian karters at the world championships in Muro Leccese, Italy, as Canadians won two of the four world titles at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals.
Scott Campbell of Sakatoon held off Dennis Kroes of the Netherlands to win one championship and Daniel Morad of Markham, after starting 13th on the grid, charged through the field to win the second.