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Sunday, November 20, 2005
Johnson cuts tire, crashes on lap 126

Associated Press

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson desperately wanted to see a caution flag. He didn't want to cause it, though.

Johnson crashed out of NASCAR's season finale Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, ending his chance to win the Nextel Cup championship.

Johnson, who finished second in the points standings the last two years, entered the race 52 points behind Tony Stewart. But he faded to the back of the field midway through the Ford 400 and was hoping for a caution flag so he to get to pit road to fix an unknown problem.

Instead, the right rear tire on his No. 48 Chevrolet exploded on the backstretch during lap 126, sending him spinning into the wall and knocking him out of the Chase for the championship.

"I lived my whole life for this," he said. "End up blowing a tire and being out, that's part of it. But I'll be back next year."

Johnson finished 40th in the race and fifth in the points standings behind series champion Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin.

"I look back at the season and we did everything we could," he said. "I'm disappointed, but very proud of my team and everybody involved. We'll be back next year."

Johnson won four races this season, including two during the 10-race Chase. He started the season with seven consecutive top-10 finishes and stayed in the hunt for the title the rest of the way. He was either first or second in the points after all but seven races -- including the finale.

Crew chief Chad Knaus said the team would rebound.

"This is the best team in motorsports," he said. "We can bounce back from anything, easy. We've gone through more trials and tribulations as a team than any other team has possibly tried to overcome, and we have overcome it all.

"This is a championship-caliber team, and it has been since its inception. So we'll come back next year and battle for the championship."

Johnson and Knaus avoided disastrous finishes the last two years.

Johnson started last year's finale at Homestead 18 points behind Kurt Busch. He did everything he could to win it all -- he finished second in the race -- but fell eight points shy of beating Busch for the title.

He wasn't quite as close in 2003, when Matt Kenseth wrapped up the title a week before the finale.

But finishing second two years in a row and then staying in the hunt for most of the season have made the Hendrick Motorsports team one of the ones to beat.

"Consistency will sooner or later pay off for us," Knaus said. "And we'll get the trophy. It just hasn't been meant to be just yet."