The 2009 NASCAR season is one for the record books.
For the first time ever, Jimmie Johnson won an unprecedented fourth consecutive title in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship Sunday when he crossed the finish line in fifth place in the race at Homestead, FL.
Johnson ran a conservative race, at times seeing what the field looked like from near the end of the field of cars. At one time, he fell back to 23rd place, which was flirting with disaster, since his guaranteed championship was dependent on a 27th or better finish.
It didn't take Johnson long, however, to make his way back up the field into the top five where he ultimately crossed the stripes.
The only other contender for the championship, as of the Homestead race, was veteran driver Mark Martin. During his long career, he has come close, but so far, the championship has eluded him. Many thought this was going to be his year. But it wasn't to be.
Despite Martin finishing just 141 points behind the four-time champion, Martin didn't complain. He had a dream season, after coming back from semi-retirement into a car owned by Rick Hendrick, with a team he worked well with. Martin and his crew chief Alan Gustafson enjoyed five wins during the '09 season. Martin seemed to revel in the fun he was having being a full-time racecar driver again.
Past-champion Jeff Gordon achieved third in the points ranking, finishing 169 points behind Johnson. The top three winners are teammates at Hendrick Motor Sports giving owner Rick Hendrick a trifecta in the points standings.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is also a Hendrick teammate, but the sports' most popular driver who is the son of Dale Earnhardt who was killed in a crash at Daytona in 2001, did not make the chase this year. Earnhardt, Jr. finished the final race in 28th place, giving him a ranking of 25th in the points standings.
Denny Hamlin won the race at Homestead, giving him a boost in the points ratings to eighth place.
In the Nationwide Series, Kyle Busch finished off his stellar season by winning the final race and taking home the championship trophy. Busch was nearly unstoppable as he enjoyed nine trips to Victory Lane.
Carl Edwards came close with five wins during the regular season, but finished 210 points behind the leader after the final race Saturday at Homestead.
Both drivers ran dual programs—in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series.
Camping World Truck Series
In NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, Kevin Harvick was the big winner. Harvick is an owner/driver. As a driver, he won the race. As an owner, his driver won the championship.
Not only did he drive his own truck to victory, but he enjoyed celebrating with his driver, Ron Hornaday, that series' champion for the fourth consecutive season.
The only other contender for the title in that race was second-place driver Matt Crafton who finished 215 points behind.
The final checkered flag at Homestead marked the end of the 2009 season, though already plans are underway by the various race teams to prepare for the 2010 season. It will start at Daytona with the 52nd running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14, 2010--just 81 days from now.