2008-11-20 / Sports

Edwards Wins, But Johnson Is Champ

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Carl Edwards led the most laps, stretched the fuel mileage in his No. 99 Ford, and did everything he needed to do on the way to his ninth Cup win of the season, Sunday at Miami-Homestead Speedway, but it wasn't enough to overtake Jimmie Johnson for the 2008 Sprint Cup Championship.

"I know we didn't win the championship this season, but everyone on the team did such a great job," said Edwards. "We did win the most races and I want to thank all my friends for putting up with me through the thick and thin, and when I get a little crazy."

"Second place in the championship isn't what we came here for. The last few races have been really fun. We knew we were at a disadvantage after those two races where we lost a lot of points. Anybody out there that is shooting for something can't lose if you give it 100 per cent."

"At least we can lay our heads down tonight and know that we won some races, gave it our best effort and got beat by a true champion."

Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Travis Kvapil, Casey Mears, Tony Stewart, and Martin Truex Jr. were the top-10 finishers.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended the season with a DNF. He pulled his No. 88 behind the wall with 16 laps to go and was credited with a 41st-place finish.

"We burned a wheel bearing up and it tore up the brake caliper," said Earnhardt. "There wasn't any sense going back out and wrecking ourselves, and maybe someone else."

Jimmie Johnson became only the second driver in NASCAR Cup history to win three consecutive championships. Cale Yarborough did it in 1976, '77, '78. Johnson's margin of victory was 69 points over Edwards.

"We really got off to a slow start and had to work hard to get back into the championship picture," said Johnson. "This is what I work my whole life for, winning races."

Final top-12 Sprint Cup standings: 1. Johnson-6684, 2. Edwards- 6615, 3. Biffle-6467, 4. Harvick-6408, 5. Bowyer-6381, 6. Burton-6335, 7. J. Gordon-6316, 8. Hamlin-6214, 9. Stewart-6202, 10. Kyle Busch-6186, 11. Kenseth-6184, 12. Earnhardt- 6127

Bowyer is Nationwide champ

Clint Bowyer won the 2008 Nationwide Series title by 21 points ahead of Carl Edwards.

Final top-10 finishers: 1. Bowyer- 5132, 2. Edwards-5111, 3. Keselowski 4794, 4. Ragan-4525, 5. Bliss-4518, 6. Kyle Busch-4461, 7. Reutimann 4388, 8. M. Wallace-4128, 9. Leffler-4086, 10. Ambrose-3991

Benson wins truck title

Johnny Benson finished one spot ahead of Ron Hornaday in the season finale truck race at Homestead, Fla., to claim the title by seven points.

Final top-10 leaders: 1. Benson- 3725, 2. Hornaday-3718, 3. Bodine- 3621, 4. Darnell-3412, 5. Crafton-3392, 6. Skinner-3363, 7. Crawford-3315, 8. Setzer-3197, 9. Sprague-3125, 10. Cook-3072

Surprises and disappointments

The biggest surprise and disappointment of the 2008 racing season has been the downward spiral of the economy, and its effect on every NASCAR race team.

The garage talk at Homestead was dominated by merger-and-acquisition rumors as teams fight for the right short-term and long-term strategies to stay afloat. Questions about car counts and attendance loom over a sport that has been riding a wave of prosperity.

Rex White, who won the 1960 Cup championship, long before NASCAR was a mainstream sport, said some things never change, especially for the have-not teams.

"We had a problem with money every day, every week, with meeting payroll or winning enough money to race on and being able to finance the car and buy the pieces and parts that you need to go there and win the race," White said.

"So money is always a big problem when you race. Racing has never really paid its way properly maybe until today. Not even today. Without the sponsors, they couldn't even race today.

"But I think it'll go on and NASCAR will survive it because people that are race fans, they'll come to see some kind of racing. It might not be the same as it is today, but racing will continue on."

White said he's "a little bit jealous" of the money being made now, with Jimmie Johnson's expected $15 million 2008 earnings making White's $46,000 income 48 years ago look like lunch money.

Johnson just won his third consecutive championship for Rick Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson owns and travels around in a $9.5- million Gulfstream G150 executive jet. It is the eighth title for Hendrick, who also operates a multitude of General Motors dealerships.

"We've had some cutbacks," said Hendrick, who operates four Cup teams and one Nationwide team. "It's all sponsor driven. We will be cutting back on some of our programs, and there will be personnel changes, but it will be business as usual, just a little smaller."

The thinking for the past decade has been that NASCAR racing was relatively immune to outside problems.

Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. completed a merger last week that will hopefully make them able to survive the lean times. The merger resulted in 115 people being terminated. Many other teams are operating within a bubble that is likely to burst at any time.

In an effort to reduce team costs, NASCAR officials announced last week that testing has been suspended for 2009 at any NASCAR touring series track that runs a Cup, Nationwide or Truck race. This includes all preseason testing at Daytona in January.

Each test day normally costs a team about $100,000. NASCAR said it would save the industry tens of millions of dollars.

Previously, the sanctioning body had cancelled testing of the new Nationwide Series car, citing the increased costs to teams. No word when it will be implemented.

"This is an unprecedented time in NASCAR," said Bobby Labonte, the 2000 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. "It makes sense that NASCAR had to do something different to try and help the teams. They can't control the cost of the teams and what they spend, but I hope NASCAR can help control a major chunk until the storm is over - hopefully this rule will accomplish that."

JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Jr., recently laid off 15 people in its Nationwide shop.

"When we merged the 88 and 5 cars together, we were entirely too big," he said. "But we didn't want to lay off a bunch of people that were dedicated."

"We were employing more people than we needed to do the job we were trying to do."

Junior said the team was living beyond its means and had lost about $2-million.

While the financial picture for many teams might be cloudy, there are several drivers that have reason to rejoice.

Carl Edwards finished number two behind Johnson, but the Columbia, Mo., driver put on several good driving shows on the way to nine wins. His confrontation with Kevin Harvick added luster to a sometimes lackluster season.

While Edwards lost his bid for the 2008 Cup championship, he is a winner off the track. He announced that he had become engaged to his hometown girlfriend.

Michael Waltrip and his team of drivers didn't fare well.

Nationwide Series driver Bobby Hamilton Jr. put up $300,000 of his own money to keep the Rensi Motorsports team afloat for the final races of the season after the sponsor, Smithfield Foods, pulled out.

Perhaps the biggest driver disappontment was Kyle Busch. Winner of eight of the first 22 races, Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs team fizzled once the Chase began.

Despite his mediocre Chase finish, there are many fans who believe he should be named, "Driver of The Year."

Other drivers that might be "lost" for next season include: Joe Nemechek, Regan Smith, J. J. Yeley, Dave Blaney, Michael McDowell, along with several others from small or partially funded teams.

Next week: 2008 Winners and Losers

Racing trivia question: Who do you think was the "Most Improved Driver of 2008?" Tell us why you think your driver was the most improved. If we use it in our column, we'll send you an 8X10 photo of him. Mail to: The Racing Reporter, PO Box 160711, Mobile, AL 36619. Send e-mails to: hodgesnews@ earthlink.net.

Last week's question: In 1950 Curtis Turner and a co-driver entered a 1950 Nash Ambassador in the Pan American Road Race. Who was Turner's driving partner? Answer. Turner's driving partner was Bill France Sr.

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