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Fri, 18 Nov 2011 03:58 PM EST

After five years of basking in the glory as a NASCAR champion, Jimmy Johnson’s incredible record run has come to an end.

Last weekend at Phoenix, Johnson crossed the finish line in 14th place and was mathematically eliminated from title contention for the cup. The season finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Southern Florida this coming Sunday will mark the first time since the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format began in 2004 that Johnson won’t be eligible to win the title. Football betting lines

“I’m definitely disappointed, but that’s motor sports,” Johnson said. “What we did over the last five years was absolutely spectacular.”

Indeed, nobody has been stronger. Johnson won eight races in 2004, the first year of the Chase format, and finished eight points behind champion Kurt Busch. The next year, he went to Homestead ranked second and with leader Tony Stewart in reach, only to crash out of the race with a tire issue and finish a distant fifth in the final standings.

Johnson left Homestead that year determined to win a championship.

Johnson, a 35-year-old Californian, has spent most of his time enticing sponsors to bankroll his racing career. The effort required him to be buttoned-up, a suit, an ‘always-on’ professional and a constant salesman. That, however, was not his natural tendency, and it left him guarded. And for a long time it got in the way of the on-track success he craved. NFL betting lines

His sales efforts brought him the paycheck he needed, but he didn’t start picking up wins until he joined with Hendrick Motorsports in late 2001. Even though he got that big break, Johnson stuck to his ‘strictly business’ demeanor, keeping and developing a reputation as a steady-Eddie, a “plain vanilla” driver.

With five championships, 55 victories and over $108 million in winnings to his name, Johnson is no longer as reticent as he once used to be.

“… being able to prove to myself, to our industry, what I’m capable of, it’s helped me gain a lot of confidence in myself, in my role in the sport and how I fit into the sport. It’s also allowed me to have a lot more fun,” Johnson said in an interview.

Johnson goes into Homestead ranked fifth in the standings, and when Sunday’s race is over, either Carl Edwards or Tony Stewart will officially end his reign. As the still-current champion, he’s motivated to move up in the standings—Johnson has never finished lower than fifth in points—and he’s anxious to sit down with crew chief Chad Knaus to figure out how they can get back to the top of NASCAR next year.

Johnson is hoping for a quiet off-season, so he can have fun with his friends and his family, and sleep a lot.

He’s adamant he’ll be back in 2012, when his first goal will be winning the Daytona 500 with Knaus on the pit box. The crew chief was suspended by NASCAR when Johnson won NASCAR’s biggest race in 2006.

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