Johnson's reign over, but what a ride
For the first time in the eight seasons of Chase history, Jimmie Johnson will go to the final event of the year without a chance of winning the championship.
Just think about that for a second. For seven consecutive seasons, Johnson had a shot at winning the Sprint Cup title in the final race. And he won the last five of them.
Pick any sport and any champion (individual or team) of any era. Johnson's run ranks with the best of the best. It is long past time to give the man his due.
Even in defeat, Johnson went down swinging. He wasn't eliminated officially until his 14th-place finish Sunday at Phoenix.
"There's definitely disappointment," Johnson said Sunday after the race. "I think that will be the emotion I deal with first. We won't be able to go to Homestead and race for our sixth [consecutive title], but that's motorsports. It's a very tough business.
"Over the offseason, I'm sure it will kick in some and [I will] reflect. What we did over the last five years was absolutely spectacular."
His entire Cup career has been spectacular. Johnson has finished first or second in the standings in seven of his nine Cup seasons. He has finished in the top five in all nine and has a chance to continue that with a good finish Sunday at Homestead (4 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN).
It's a decade of excellence that may never be equaled.
"I've got to thank Hendrick Motorsports, [crew chief] Chad Knaus and this whole race team for giving me everything they have these 10 years," Johnson said. "We're going to go to Homestead and try to have our best race down there that we can and finish as high as we can in the points.
"To a certain degree, being on top for as long as we have been takes a lot out of you. So this winter it will be nice to unplug and relax and really look internally and dissect the different areas of the race team and what we do and come back stronger. I've always learned more from tougher moments, but by no means is this a tough moment."
Consider this comparison. In his first 10 full seasons, Richard Petty won two Cup championships and had an average points position of 2.8.
If Johnson maintains his No. 5 position after the race this weekend, he will have five championships in 10 seasons and an average points position of 2.4.
Dale Earnhardt had three titles in his first 10 seasons and an average spot in the standings of 5.2. Jeff Gordon won all four of his championships in his first 10 seasons with an average points spot of 4.7.
By any standard of measurement, Johnson deserves mention with the all-time greats. For the first time in a long time, he will go to South Florida with only one concern -- trying to win the race. I wouldn't count him out.
Edwards leads Stewart by three points in a Chase finale that NASCAR officials always wanted -- two of the biggest stars of the sport having to beat each other on the final day to win the title.
But before that happens, when Johnson walks on that stage for the prerace introductions, every person in the grandstands should stand, cheer and applaud with gusto. Being thankful to have witnessed such a phenomenal achievement.
"I haven't won two in a row, much less five," Stewart said Sunday about Johnson's championship run. "I don't see anybody doing it again. I think it's been absolutely remarkable.
"I know this year hasn't ended up the way he wanted. But Jimmie can go to Las Vegas [the season awards ceremony] and hold his head up high knowing what they've accomplished. There's a real good possibility in the history of the sport for eternity that it will never happen again."
As the saying goes, records are made to be broken. I'm betting Johnson's achievement is one of those rare exceptions.
It's time to give the man his due.
Nationwide Series: Series taking big steps to rebuilding identity
The Nationwide Series will crown a true champion for the first time in six years this Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and WatchESPN).
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. probably is that man, thanks to a rule change this season that forced all drivers to declare which series they would race for the title. That meant Cup regulars were out on the championship battle in the lower series.
Barring a disastrous finish by Stenhouse and a run up front by Elliott Sadler, Stenhouse will win the title and officially end the string of five-straight Cup drivers winning the Nationwide crown. Stenhouse needs to only finish 37th or better to win the title.
There are a couple of other things fans could see at Homestead for the first time since 2005 -- a third consecutive trip to Victory Lane for a Nationwide regular and a seventh win in the same season by a non-Cup regular.
The fact that Kyle Busch didn't race in the last two Nationwide events and won't race at Homestead increases the chances fans could see another Nationwide regular win to close out the season.
Camping World Truck Series: Dillon trying to seal the title deal
The Camping World Truck Series had an off weekend, which probably was a good thing after all the controversy with the Kyle Busch incident at Texas.
Now the series can head to Homestead for the season finale with all the focus on Austin Dillon's attempt to win the championship. This is Dillon's title to lose. He's 20 points ahead of Johnny Sauter and 28 ahead of James Buescher.
Sadly, the championship battle ended for veteran Ron Hornaday Jr. when he was taken out by Busch at Texas Motor Speedway. Hornaday was hoping to come from behind and win his fifth CWTS title.
Dillon or Buescher, both 21, would be the youngest champion in series history. No matter who wins it among the three contenders, he will end the series moniker as the "senior league" and become the first under-40 CWTS champion in eight years.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.
Racing Resources says
Sprint Cup Series
Sam Hornish Jr. won the Nationwide Series Wypall 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, his first career series win in his 32nd start. His previous best career finish was fifth at Chicagoland in September. Hornish is the third first-time winner of 2011 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne). Hornish is the first driver to score his first win at Phoenix and he's the 131st different driver to win a series race. It was his fifth top-10 finish in 12 races of 2011. Hornish led once for 61 laps, leading more laps in the race than he had in his previous 31 starts combined.
-- Racing Resources