Johnson Biffle Homestead Heroes

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Jimmie Johnson did what he needed to do Sunday to clinch his first NEXTEL Cup title.

Johnson scored a ninth-place finish in the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, notching another top-10 finish to earn the 2006 title.

"It's such a long day to get here," an obviously relieved Johnson said in victory lane. "There were times when we were down and out and in the back and had to come back through," he said, referring to an early race scare when his Chevy suffered minor damage picking up a bit of debris on the track.

"It's going to take a little bit to sink in but just to think of what this team's accomplished. It's everything I've ever wanted it to be. It's been a long time since I won a championship. This means the world to me."

Johnson wound up with a 56 advantage over Matt Kenseth in the final standings with Denny Hamlin third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The 31-year-old Californian became the 28th driver to win the championship in NASCAR's premier division and he did it in his fifth full season on the series.

Johnson has now finished in the top-five in the point standings in every one of his full seasons.

He notched five wins this season in his Hendrick Motorsports Lowe's Chevrolet, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500.

Johnson added wins in Las Vegas, Talladega, Indianapolis and Martinsville.

Greg Biffle won his third straight Ford 400, out-running Martin Truex Jr. on a green-white-checkered finish. It was Biffle's second win of the season after his triumph at Darlington Raceway back in May.

Hamlin, pole-sitter Kasey Kahne and Harvick rounded out the top five.

Kenseth, Scott Riggs, Carl Edwards, Johnson and Clint Bowyer completed the first ten finishers.

Biffle wound up leading 45 laps on his way to another Homestead victory to go with his triumphs in 2004 and 2005. He took the lead for good on lap 257 and stayed out front the rest of the way to score the win.

"It has been," Biffle said, referring to the 24 race winless drought he ended on Sunday. "I just want to thank all the National Guard soldiers, this win is for those guys. We really love them."

The overtime was set-up when Casey Mears blew an engine on lap 261. After the track was cleaned-up, the green flag flew and Biffle was able to pull away from the field as Truex, Jr., who charged his way through the pack on the restart, came up short in his bid to run him down.

The race was slowed by 11 cautions for 43 laps and included one red flag when Juan Pablo Montoya, who was making his NEXTEL Cup Series debut, crashed hard in the first turn wall after getting tagged by Ryan Newman.

The two had made contact earlier in the race, when Newman slid down the backstretch. The second encounter sent Montoya on a violent trip into the wall and his car burst into flames after the heavy impact.

"I think the 12 caught me in the back," Montoya said. "I don't care."

Montoya was not injured in the accident. NASCAR called Newman and crew chief Mike Nelson to the hauler for consultation after the race.

"I felt for Juan," Newman said. "I felt bad for the situation and him catching on fire and everything. I did not crash him on purpose and we'll go on."

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NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2006

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