TIES PETTY and Earnhardt
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The people who had crowded into Jimmie Johnson's pit box erupted in cheers and tears, doling out high-fives and bear hugs as the driver clinched his record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson could only muster a single sentence: "I don't even know what to say."
Fortunately, plenty of others were more than willing to do the talking.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who stood on Johnson's pit box for the race's final laps, was among those grinning, shaking hands and also shaking his head. He knows about the significance of Johnson's run having competed against all three of NASCAR's seven-time champions from his first race (in 1992, which was Richard Petty's last) to years of competition with the late Dale Earnhardt to more recent seasons battling with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
"I'm just in disbelief the way this race unfolded," a grinning Gordon said of the amazing three-lap race to the finish -- the only laps Johnson led all day after starting last in the 40-car field. "… Jimmie wanted that thing. He wanted that seventh championship and he got that seventh championship done. He deserves it. Just an amazing experience."
After the celebratory burnouts and champagne spray, Johnson took the stage to hoist what is now very familiar hardware to him. And drivers and friends stopped by to give NASCAR's greatest active champion his due.