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Johnson wins third straight Sprint title

Nov 17, 2008 - 12:57 AM HOMESTEAD, Florida (Ticker) -- Carl Edwards tried his best to derail history, but it was not enough to deny Jimmie Johnson.

Needing only to place 36th or better in Sunday's Ford 400, Johnson played it safe and finished 15th to become the first driver to win three straight series championships since Cale Yarborough accomplished the feat from 1976-78.

"It's over - what a special year," Johnson said. "I'm very proud of all of Hendrick Motorsports for helping us rebound from a slow start. I can't believe we're part of history.

"This doesn't get old, and we cant wait for next year."

Edwards, who entered the race 141 points behind Johnson, did his part by winning the race on fumes, even leading the most laps.

But the final margin between Johnson and Edwards was 69 points.

"I know we didn't win a championship, but we won the most races," said Edwards, who won a series-high nine races this season. "I don't know what to say ... second place is not what we came here for. But Jimmie is a great guy and he deserves it."

Johnson started the race in the rear of the field after qualifying 30th on Friday. But he quickly moved up through the field and was up to 18th after just 25 laps.

"This was a good night for us," Johnson said. "We had a great race-car. I question some of the hard racing out there - guys racing for next year and for their jobs. But we made the most of it tonight."

Johnson remained comfortably ahead of the 36th position throughout the race and even took the lead on lap 200 when crew chief Chad Knaus opted to take two tires to get his driver out first, allowing him to lead a lap and gain five bonus points.

In doing so, Johnson at that point only had to finish 37th or better to win the title.

Meanwhile, Edwards came out third, behind Johnson and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.

As the laps ticked down, Johnson continued to play it safe, falling back to fifth as Kenseth took the lead.

Johnson cautiously decided to pit one last time with 13 laps to go, getting a splash of fuel to ensure he would be safe to finish the race.

"We weren't taking any chances," Johnson said.

The move proved to be a smart one, as Kenseth eventually ran out of fuel with two laps to go while Tony Stewart, the other driver to lead in the final laps, also pitted for a splash and go.

"It's what we work for, it's what we do," said Knaus, the first crew chief to win three consecutive titles. "We don't want to do anything but race and win races and win championships."

That left Edwards to circle Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5-mile oval low on fuel, and he eventually crossed the finish line out of gas.

"It's out - we needed a push to get here," said Edwards in Victory Lane.

Kevin Harvick finished second, followed by Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer.

Gordon's fourth-place finish culminated a winless season for the four-time series champion - the first since 1993 during his rookie campaign. Gordon had won at least two races every season after his first full year on the circuit.

Stewart, in his final race for Joe Gibbs Racing, finished ninth. He will drive for his own Stewart Haas Racing team next year after 10 years with JGR.

"It was awesome to be leading with 20 to go and driving away from the field," Stewart said. "We wanted to win one more with these guys."

But the guys celebrating on this night was Johnson and all of Hendrick, as they capped off a dominant 10-race "Chase for the Championship."

Johnson finished outside the top 10 just twice in the Chase, at Homestead along with a 15th-place finish at Texas.

When Edwards won back-to-back races at Atlanta and Texas to take a bite out of his points lead, Johnson rebounded with a win at Phoenix last week to make Sunday's chase for a three-peat a mere formality.

"It's the ultimate reward. We worked so hard to put ourselves in this position," Johnson said. "It's just total teamwork and dedication. There were times this year when things were dark, but we buckled down and got to work and that's what it was really all about."

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