Jimmie Johnson has accomplished racing's version of the hat trick.... three championships in a row.
He did it with a 15th -place finish in southern Florida's grand finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Carl Edwards won the battle, so to speak, but Johnson won the war.
On a day when he only needed a 36th-place finish to clinch his third title in a row, Johnson brought his Lowe's Chevrolet into the thick of the battle, steadily clicking off position after position in the 267-lap race.
Johnson's championship run was the first three-peat in NASCAR since Cale Yarborough did it 30 years ago.
While Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were the men of the hour, hard-charging Edwards, for the second time this season, coaxed extra mileage out of his Ford and hung on to win the race on fuel mileage. However, it was not a fuel mileage fluke. Edwards led the most laps and was clearly the fastest cat on the track all day and into the night.
Trailing Edwards across the finish line were Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Travis Kvapil, Casey Mears, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr.
The win was Edwards' ninth of the year and cemented Carl's position as a serious challenger to Johnson for the championship next year.
A slew of caution flags in the last 100 laps kept the outcome in doubt until the very end, when leader Matt Kenseth ran out of fuel with just a couple laps left. Edwards, as he did once before this season, proved he can be just as smooth letting up on the gas pedal as he is in mashing it down. He backed off just enough to finish in front of the field.
David Reutimann, the first-time pole winner, led a lap at the start before former champion Kenseth passed him.
Beautiful, balmy, South Florida weather welcomed the drivers as they streaked around the Homestead-Miami track at 180 miles an hour. Johnson, who started 30th, charged towards the front right from the git-go. At just 10 laps, he had moved past nine drivers to 21st position.
Edwards, Johnson's only threat for his third championship in three seasons, moved past Kenseth for the lead on the 13th lap. Edwards was flat-out-all-caution-to-the wind, planning to give it everything he had in the season finale.
Johnson was 18th by Lap 19. He was 17th when Edwards, the leader, pitted on the 51st lap. Harvick led a lap when Edwards pitted. Montoya also led a lap when the field started pitting.
Once the pitting cycle ended, Edwards was back out front and Johnson had gained two spots to 15th.
The top 10 at 60 laps were Edwards, Harvick, David Ragan, Reutimann, Truex, McMurray, Kenseth, Mears, Stewart and Jeff Burton.
Johnson, meanwhile, had moved into 14th spot and was continuing his charge to the front. The first caution of the afternoon waved on the 68th lap when Aric Almirola spun on the frontstretch.
At 90 laps, Edwards was in control, followed by Ragan, Harvick, Reutimann, Stewart, McMurray, Bowyer, Kenseth, Mears and Hamlin. Johnson had worked his way to 11th.
By the halfway point, it was clear Edwards had come to Florida with one thing in mind --- winning the race.
It was Edwards, Ragan, Stewart, Hamlin, Reutimann, Harvick, McMurray, Earnhardt, Johnson and Gordon. Johnson had come from 30th to ninth in 134 laps.