Season Review: Jimmie Johnson

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Jimmie Johnson was on top of the 2006 NEXTEL Cup season at the start and again at the finish in what turned out to be one of the wildest years in recent memory.

It was a year to remember for Johnson, who won the season-opening Daytona 500 and then went on to his first NEXTEL Cup championship. But it was anything but easy.

Johnson had to take on the biggest race of the year without his crew chief Chad Knaus, who was suspended for four races by NASCAR when the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet didn’t pass post-qualifying inspection.

Undaunted, Johnson – with interim crew chief Darien Grubb calling the shots – went on to victory in the “Great American Race” capping off the controversial week.

"We want to dedicate this to all the haters of the 48 team," Johnson said. "I believed in my heart this team could still win. Not having Chad here was a big handicap but everybody stepped up."

Grubb, an engineer within the Hendrick Motorsports organization, steered Johnson to another victory during Knaus’ suspension three weeks later when the team scored a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It’s a total team effort and I’m just happy to be able to play a part in our overall success and the bottom line goal which is to win races and ultimately the championship,” said Grubb, who returned to his engineer role two weeks later when Knaus returned.

As the “regular season” rolled on, so did Johnson who put together an impressive string of consistent finishes and dominating performances to stay near the top of the NEXTEL Cup standings.

Johnson added another restrictor plate win with a victory in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway in April. With a Daytona 500 win already in his pocket, the fifth year driver added another crown jewel victory to his racing resume in August when he “kissed the bricks” at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a victory in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

Johnson’s Indy victory was especially impressive as he overcame an early race flat tire and found himself a lap down to the field before rallying back for the emotional victory.

"We overcame a left front flat tire and rallied back to the front," Johnson said. "I'm totally speechless. I never thought I would win at this racetrack. I have a drought at this racetrack and now I have a victory."

After beginning the championship run with finishes of 39th, 13th and 14th, Johnson suffered what looked to be a fatal blow at Talladega when he appeared headed for victory lane, only to be taken out of the race when teammate Brian Vickers made contact with him on the final lap. The incident took out Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and handed Vickers his first career win, much to the chagrin of the more than 100,000 fans in attendance at the Alabama speedplant.

“I can't believe it, here we went all day long and had a great chance to make up some points and got crashed by a teammate," a dejected Johnson said.

But from that disappointment, Johnson and company rose up and showed just what a championship caliber team they were.

Johnson reeled off a string of five straight races finishing first or second, punctuated by his fifth win of the year at Martinsville, to climb back on top of the standings heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

With a finish of 12th or better in the Ford 400 needed to lock up his first title, Johnson brought home yet another top-ten finish with a ninth place run in the season-ending race.

"It's going to take a little bit to sink in but just to think of what this team's accomplished,” Johnson said in victory lane. “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."

The title was the sixth for Hendrick Motorsports and team owner Rick Hendrick, adding another accomplishment in the organization’s stellar NASCAR career.

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