Jimmie Johnson's NASCAR Reign Ends At Phoenix After Five Straight Championships

As the sun set over Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday night, it did so as well on Jimmie Johnson's five-year reign as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

Johnson will not win a sixth consecutive championship. He was officially eliminated from the Chase on Sunday when he finished 14th in the Kobalt Tools 500.

"There's definitely disappointment," he said on pit road after the race. "I think that'll be the emotion I feel at first. Over the offseason, I think it'll kick in some, and I'll reflect then."

Carl Edwards leads Tony Stewart by three points heading into the finale, and no other drivers are mathematically eligible. That includes Johnson, as strange as that may seem.

For NASCAR fans who have been inundated with Johnson coverage over the past five seasons, next week's Homestead race may seem downright weird.

You mean Jimmie can't win it? Someone else is guaranteed to be the champ?

Johnson, though, insisted it wouldn't be odd for him not to be a part of the title race.

"I guess I've been racing, shoot, 31 years?" he said. "And I've won probably two other big championships along the way. So, seven out of 31 years. This is normal. What we did over the past five years is abnormal. Now, we're getting a taste of normalcy."

For the "Anybody But Jimmie" crowd that grew over the seasons as Johnson won again and again, the No. 48 team's elimination is sweet.

But be warned: That doesn't mean Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus won't be back in championship form next season. In fact, it seems likely the 48 could be as good as ever in 2012.

"We'll definitely learn," Johnson said. "To a certain degree, being on top as long as we have been, it takes a lot of effort to maintain that. It takes a lot out of you. This winter will be a nice winter to unplug and relax, really look internally, dissect different scenarios for the race team and come back stronger.

"... We've got to work very, very hard this offseason to understand what's up. But I'm up for the challenge, and this team is."

It's likely NASCAR will never see a streak like Johnson's again. Only one other driver has won three championships in a row – let alone five.

"I don't see anybody doing it again," Tony Stewart said. "I think it's been absolutely remarkable to begin with, for Jimmie to put five in a row together. I know this year hasn't ended up the way he wanted by any means, but I think he goes to Vegas (at the awards banquet) and holds his head up high knowing what they've accomplished.

"I think that's something in NASCAR history that I'd put money on will never happen again. I'm willing to make that bet with anybody in this room."

As Johnson departed Phoenix, he summed his feelings via Twitter.

"It's been one hell of a run," he tweeted.

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