It came down to one race. Since February, NASCAR has spanned across the United States as drivers battled it out to have an opportunity to go after a championship. Now, only one race remained in the 2010 Sprint Cup season.
Three drivers entered the race with an opportunity to become the champion. Denny Hamlin held the lead by only 15 points over Jimmie Johnson, while Kevin Harvick was only 44 points back in third.
All three could leave the final race of the year with the title. It would take 400 miles around the Homestead-Miami Speedway to determine the one holding the Sprint Cup championship. It was the final race of the 2010 campaign, and the fans that were in attendance were set for one of the greatest title battles NASCAR had seen in years. Only 267 separated a champion and a runner up, and with the skies partly cloudy, 43 drivers took the green flag in the season finale, the Ford 400.
Kasey Kahne won the pole in the Red Bull Toyota and led the first four laps, but gave up the lead to Carl Edwards on lap 5 and the No. 99 team looked to hold the advantage, that is until the first caution on lap 19 waved when David Reutimann hit the outside wall in turn 4.
Even after pit stops, Edwards held his position and brought the field to green. However, five laps later the caution waved again, and would set the course for one of the craziest title battles in recent memory.
Coming off the second corner, Hamlin was underneath the Ford of Greg Biffle…and made contact. Hamlin slid to the inside grass, damage to the splitter, but managed to not hit anything. He brought the car to pit road, while at the same time tried to remain calm as it was still early in the race. The crew made some quick fixes, but it was obvious the car was not handling as well and it would be a battle for Hamlin to get back to the front and keep his title hopes alive.
Out front, it was once again Edwards holding the advantage and looked to be pulling away from the field. As pit stops began approaching, it was obvious that handling would be the name of the game as most drivers complained of loose or tight setups and wanted adjustments.
Even through all that, the race was still great as coming out of the pits, it was Martin Truex Jr. putting the NAPA Toyota out front for the first time on the afternoon. Edwards would make his charge to the front and just barely grabbed the top spot as the yellow flag came out for debris on the backstretch.
The battle on pit road was won by Edwards as he got the jump on the restart and took the lead coming out of the second turn. That lead would be held until lap 128 when Edwards lost the lead to Truex.
The race went under yellow at lap 136 for Marcos Ambrose spinning out of turn 4. Even on the restart, Edwards proved he was going to be tough to beat as he grabbed the lead immediately in the first turn.
At lap 141, contact between Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Logano sent the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota into the outside wall. Heavy damage meant cleanup and the caution flag back out for the competition.
Following the lap 143 restart, the battle for the top spot would be between Edwards and Truex, and the battle would continue through two more cautions. But on the restart at lap 192, Truex fell backwards like a rock. The reason, he had a flat tire and had to slow down to keep from destroying his car. That incident gave Edwards the lead and he would hold it through lap 206 as the race went through two more cautions on lap 196 for Travis Kvapil hitting the wall and then on lap 202 following Jeff Gordon losing the engine in his No. 24 Chevrolet.
Edwards would lead all but one lap from the green flag until lap 240 when it was Kahne retaking the top spot. On lap 244, the race went under the final caution as green-flag pit stops were under way and nearly complete.
On the track, Havick was making up ground as he was passed by Kyle Busch, who then came right in front of the No. 29 Chevrolet, and quickly got hit in the rear bumper and sent to the inside wall. After recovering, Busch tried to bring the car to pit road, and then had to stop as the front of the car decided to get hot and caught fire. Busch was alright, but was aggravated that he couldn’t complete the weekend sweep.
That wreck would be the final caution of the race, but also put Hamlin in a bad spot as he was caught a lap down when the yellow flag flew. He took the wave around and would restart 18th, but with only 17 laps to go at the restart, it was a tough task to have the title come home to the FedEx team.
Out front, Johnson and Harvick stayed near the leaders and were hoping for a shot at the win. But, Edwards was having none of it as he pulled away and didn’t look back.
After winning last week in Phoenix, Edwards backed up the performance by taking the checkered flag in the Ford 400 in his No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion. It was his second win in the season finale in three years, and he celebrated by doing his signature backflip and then greeting the fans in attendance.
But, it was the driver in the second spot grabbing all the headlines. By virtue of a second-place finish, crew chief Chad Knaus keyed the No. 48 team radio to talk to his driver, Johnson.
“There’s a five-time Sprint Cup champion right there,” he said.
Right after hearing those words, “Johnson keyed his radio and let out a scream of joy and relief. By 39 points, Johnson would lay claim to his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship, something that many thought he would do at the beginning of the year, but didn’t know he would have to race for it in the final event.
There were some jeers coming from the crowd, but the appreciation was seen by many as Johnson exited his car and celebrated with his owner, his team, his wife and his daughter.
A dynasty continues as Johnson now lays claim to five of the seven Chase titles. Now, with the 2010 season officially complete, the question again remains, can Johnson ever be beaten for the title? The unfortunate part is we all must wait nearly three months to see the next green flag in NASCAR.
Start the countdown now, as the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will kick off on February 20 with the 53rd Annual Daytona 500.
RESULTS: 1-Edwards 2-Johnson 3-Harvick 4-Almirola 5-Allmendinger 6-Kahne 7-Newman 8-Stewart 9-Kenseth 10-Biffle
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Bowyer 14-Hamlin 18-Kurt Busch 27-Earnhardt Jr. 31-Burton 32-Kyle Busch 37-Gordon
CAUTIONS: 10 for 41 laps. Lap 19-22 (No. 00 accident-T4), 25-27 (No. 11, 16 accident-BS), 99-102 (Debris-BS), 136-139 (No. 47 spin-T4), 141-143 (No. 20, 42 accident-BS), 165-168 (No. 7 spin-T4), 188-192 (Debris-FS), 196-198 (No. 38 accident-T4), 202-205 (Oil on the track), 244-250 (No. 18, 29 accident-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 22 among 8 drivers. Kahne 1-4, Edwards 5-19, Yeley 20, Edwards 21-69, Burton 70, Johnson 71, Stewart 72, Truex 73-98, Edwards 99, Truex 100-102, Edwards 103-127, Truex 128-135, Edwards 136, Truex 137-139, Edwards 140-146, Truex 147-164, Edwards 165-188, Truex 189-192, Edwards 193-206, Kenseth 207, Edwards 208-240, Kahne 241-246, Edwards 247-267.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 9 Mins, 50 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 126.585 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.608 Seconds
2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Johnson, 6622 points; 2. Hamlin, -39; 3. Harvick, -41; 4. Edwards, -229; 5. Kenseth, -328; 6. Biffle, -375; 7. Stewart, -401; 8. Kyle Busch, -440; 9. Gordon, -446; 10. Bowyer, -467; 11. Kurt Busch, -480; 12. Burton, -589