HOMESTEAD, Fla. — A new winner, a familiar champion.
Denny Hamlin, whose had easily the worst season of his career, earned his first Sprint Cup Series victory of the year by holding off Matt Kenseth to win Sunday night’s Ford 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hamlin was able to extend his streak of at least one win in each of his eight fulltime seasons in the Cup series.
Jimmie Johnson finished ninth and easily clinched this season’s series championship by 19 points over Kenseth. He only needed to finish 23rd or better.
The championship is the sixth for Johnson, and leaves him now one away from tying the NASCAR record of seven held by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third in the race, Martin Truex Jr. was fourth and Clint Bowyer was fifth.
Kenseth took early control of the race, leading 81 of the first 91 laps.
Debris in Turn 3 brought out the third caution of the race on Lap 69. All of the leaders elected to pit for tires and fuel and Kenseth remained in the race lead on the restart on Lap 73.
During the pit stops, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was penalized by NASCAR for being too fast on pit road and Danica Patrick was penalized for removing equipment from pit road.
Dave Blaney spun on Lap 90 to bring out the fourth caution of the race. Again, the leaders pit for fuel and tires and Kenseth remained in the lead on the restart on Lap 95 followed by Kyle Busch and Hamlin.
Kevin Harvick, fighting an ill-handling car, was forced to pit under green on Lap 117. When he was done, he reentered the race in 33rd and one lap down.
At the halfway mark of the race, Kenseth led the way followed by Hamlin, Earnhardt, Kyle Busch and Johnson.
Teams began a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 140. Once the cycle was completed on Lap 144, Earnhardt was the race leader followed by Hamlin, Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Johnson.
Debris on the track brought out the fifth caution of the race on Lap 153. All of the leaders pit for fuel and tires with Kenseth restart in the lead on Lap 158 followed by Earnhardt and Hamlin.
On Lap 166, Hamlin moved out front to take the lead.
On a restart on Lap 194 following a caution for debris, Jeff Gordon spun his tires, which sent the cars behind him scattering everywhere. Both Johnson and Kenseth lost considerable ground, with Johnson picking up some left-front fender damage in the process.
Paul Menard hit the wall and brought out a caution on Lap 206. All of the lead-lap cars pit for fuel and tires, which allowed Johnson’s team to check his car over for damage. On the restart on Lap 212, Harvick was in the lead, followed by Hamlin and Truex.
Two later later, Brad Keselowski made his way around Harvick to take the lead.
On Lap 224, Earnhardt got around Keselowski to re-take the lead. Johnson, who only needed to finish 23rd or better to clinch the championship, was back up to 11th.
A fire began under the rear-end of Paul Menard’s car and he brought his No. 27 Chevrolet to pit road. Just as his pit crew was attempting to extinguish the fire and complete a pit stop, the rear-end housing and right-rear tire exploded in violent fashion.
No one appeared to be injured and NASCAR put the race under caution on Lap 232.
Menard’s car was towed to the garage and the lead-lap cars pit for fuel and tires with Hamlin taking the lead on the restart on Lap 240, followed by Earnhardt, Kurt Busch, Gordon and Kenseth.
Hamlin made his way back around and into the lead on Lap 244.
Distributed by MCT Information Services