This is the final installment of a five-part NASCAR This Week series on the best races of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This week: No. 1.
No. 1: Johnson’s victory at Homestead tops list
Race No. 1: Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
NASCAR started the Chase knockout playoff format in 2014, and with each season, the racing and emotion has amplified.
The Chase begins with 16 candidates, and over a nine-race stretch, a dozen drivers are knocked out of the playoffs. The last four survivors compete in an all-or-nothing season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The highest-finishing driver is immediately declared NASCAR Cup Series champion.
A driver doesn’t have to win the race to earn title honors, only finish ahead of the other three qualifiers at the checkered flag. Statistically, a driver could win the crown by finishing 37th.
The fact is, though, the past three Cup Series finals have come down to last-lap shootouts for the race win and title.
Kevin Harvick nipped Ryan Newman for the win/title in 2014. The same thing happened in 2015, with Kyle Busch besting Harvick for the win.
In 2016, the four qualifiers were Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Busch.
Of the four, Johnson struggled in qualifying and during the race, and it looked like his attempt at a seventh championship was in jeopardy.
Then, it happened.
Edwards, who had led eight times for 47 laps in his No. 19 Toyota, was trying to block Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford on a restart with 10 laps left to complete in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Edwards felt if Logano got around him on the restart at the 1.5-mile oval, the race and championship would be lost.
Logano kept going lower and lower on the track until all four wheels of his car were on the apron. Edwards used his mirror to stay ahead of the challenge.
Edwards pressed so hard, the two had contact going into Turn 1. Edwards went out of control and smashed heavily into an inside retaining wall, while Logano continued.
Not only did they crash, but they swept up seven other cars, including those of Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott. “I just pushed the issue as far as I could because I figured that was the race there,” said Edwards, who finished 34th.
“I was probably a little optimistic, but I thought I could clear him or force him to lift. I just thought I had a little more time, but he drove down as far as a guy could be expected to drive down, and that’s how it ended.”
The real winner in the confrontation was Johnson, who had trouble staying up with the top-10 pack, then found himself as the top Chase participant when the race resumed on Lap 267.
He held on for two laps to win the race and his seventh championship.
Johnson is now tied with “The King” Richard Petty and “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt at seven career titles.
“Just beyond words,” said Johnson, who credited crew chief Chad Knaus, who's been there for all seven titles. “Just didn't think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game.
“Chad called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs. Luck came our way, and we were able to win the race and win the championship.”