HOMESTEAD, Fla. - -It will take some time for the magnitude of what Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team accomplished at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday to sink in for the men who made it happen.
But Johnson knows it's big.
Johnson, 34, won an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship. He joined Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the only drivers to win at least four championships and broke a tie with Cale Yarborough, who won three consecutive championships. Johnson won seven races in 2009.
"It is going to take a little while for those things to jump-start in my mind and get going again. Just so proud of the effort," Johnson said. "Really, think of how much I love this sport, how much I respect this sport. The greats before, how they have carried this sport on their backs and made it what it is and then to do something none of them have done - it is unbelievable, man."
When Johnson stepped out of his No. 48 Chevrolet, after engulfing the front stretch in a cloud of white smoke from his celebratory burnout, he looked at the cheering crowd filled with pride.
He kissed his wife, Chandra. Minutes before, her eyes had glistened as Johnson ran the race's final few laps of his fourth consecutive championship. She threw her hands over her face, overcome with emotion when Johnson secured the title.
He hugged his crew chief, Chad Knaus. Knaus leaned over his pit box minutes before and videotaped the team's celebration with a hand-held flip-camera. Knaus had the camera handy just in case they actually did it.
With a fifth-place finish in the Ford 400, they did.
"I really never thought in my lifetime I'd [again] see four in a row," Gordon said. "Who's to say they won't win five?"
The championship gave Hendrick Motorsports nine championships - all in the past 15 years - and an unprecedented 1-2-3 finish. Mark Martin finished the race 12th, and in second place by 141 points in the championship race. Gordon finished sixth and third in the points standings.
Team owner Rick Hendrick did not attend the race. He remained in North Carolina with his family as his 29-year-old niece had emergency surgery for a liver transplant.
"There's a little bit of a dark cloud over it all, because the boss and the family's in Charlotte," Martin said. "We made history in multiple ways tonight at Hendrick Motorsports, and for me, it's just incredible."
Martin trailed Johnson by 108 points entering the final race.
Johnson had a bigger lead before Texas two weeks ago - 184 points - but he crashed on the third lap, losing much of it. Since then, the pressure of winning a fourth championship weighed heavily on Johnson and kept him from enjoying his run.
He led by 73 points heading into Phoenix, in the season's second-to-last race and, in true Johnson fashion, won the race.
"The last three years gave me so much confidence going into Phoenix," Johnson said. "Those moments, it's so cool to pull it off."
That meant Martin needed both a spectacular finish and trouble for Johnson at Homestead to make a historic comeback. Johnson could have clinched the championship with just a 25th-place finish.
Midway through the race, Hornish, who wrecked him in Texas, pulled up beside him.
"And I thought, oh, man, I gotta get out of here," Johnson said.
Calmed by Knaus, Johnson made it cleanly and made history.
Lap length: 1.5 miles (Start position in parentheses)
1. (38) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267 laps, $347,975.
4. (12) Kurt Busch, Dodge, 267, $157,275. 5. (1) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, $189,401.
6. (20) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 267, $141,251. 7. (24) Carl Edwards, Ford, 267, $144,981.
10. (13) AJ Allmendinger, Ford, 267, $79,400. 11. (10) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 267, $82,975.
12. (4) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 267, $82,475. 13. (34) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 267, $118,015.
22. (5) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 267, $90,098. 23. (7) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, $100,054.
26. (36) Paul Menard, Ford, 267, $101,031. 27. (2) Scott Speed, Toyota, 267, $84,898.
32. (16) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 266, $69,075. 33. (40) John Andretti, Chevrolet, 266, $78,325.
38. (23) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 235, $99,423. 39. (37) Robby Gordon, Toyota, 227, $83,410.
Average speed of race winner: 126.986 mph. Time of race: 3 hours, 6 minutes, 18 seconds. Margin of victory: 2.632 seconds. Caution flags: 7 for 31 laps. Lead changes: 18 among 10 drivers. Leaders summary (driver, times led, laps led): D.Hamlin, 3 times for 71 laps; K.Harvick, 2 times for 56 laps; Ku.Busch, 5 times for 43 laps; T.Stewart, 2 times for 43 laps; J.Johnson, 2 times for 28 laps; J.Burton, 1 time for 19 laps; M.Ambrose, 1 time for 4 laps; Ky.Busch, 1 time for 1 lap; C.Bowyer, 1 time for 1 lap; M.Waltrip, 1 time for 1 lap. Top 12 in points: 1. J.Johnson, 6,652; 2. M.Martin, 6,511; 3. J.Gordon, 6,473; 4. Ku.Busch, 6,446; 5. D.Hamlin, 6,335; 6. T.Stewart, 6,309; 7. G.Biffle, 6,292; 8. J.Montoya, 6,252; 9. R.Newman, 6,175; 10. K.Kahne, 6,128; 11. C.Edwards, 6,118; 12. B.Vickers, 5,929.