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Johnson speechless, but peers have plenty to say

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The people who had crowded into Jimmie Johnson's pit box erupted in cheers and tears, doling out high-fives and bear hugs as the driver clinched his record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship.

 

Johnson could only muster a single sentence: "I don't even know what to say."

 

Fortunately, plenty of others were more than willing to do the talking.

 

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who stood on Johnson's pit box for the race's final laps, was among those grinning, shaking hands and also shaking his head. He knows about the significance of Johnson's run having competed against all three of NASCAR's seven-time champions from his first race (in 1992, which was Richard Petty's last) to years of competition with the late Dale Earnhardt to more recent seasons battling with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

 

"I'm just in disbelief the way this race unfolded," a grinning Gordon said of the amazing three-lap race to the finish -- the only laps Johnson led all day after starting last in the 40-car field. "… Jimmie wanted that thing. He wanted that seventh championship and he got that seventh championship done. He deserves it. Just an amazing experience."

 

After the celebratory burnouts and champagne spray, Johnson took the stage to hoist what is now very familiar hardware to him. And drivers and friends stopped by to give NASCAR's greatest active champion his due.

 

Fellow championship contenders Joey Logano (who finished fourth) and Kyle Busch (who finished sixth) were among the first to seek him out.

Johnson's wife, Chandra, and their two young daughters quickly joined him on stage. The champ's little girls were left to hold their ears while watching the fireworks erupt and the yellow and black star confetti shoot out of cannons to celebrate this milestone moment.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport's 12-time Most Popular Driver, was among those who made a point to see his Hendrick teammate Johnson.

 

"It is incredible what Jimmie's been able to do in this sport in such a short period of time," Earnhardt said. "That's seven championships in 11 years. I think he's one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen, maybe the best. He's been in that conversation for many years and this really closes the book on any doubts that anybody had where he ranks. He's in that discussion with my father and Richard (Petty) and I'm glad I was a witness to it.

 

"I told Jimmie, I wish Dad were here to shake his hand. He would certainly love the type of driver he is, I know that for sure."

 

MORE: Watch Junior's emotional interview

 

Johnson's own father, Gary, was there to celebrate his son's big moment, just as he has so many times before. And as he received congratulations from others -- including another team owner Richard Childress -- it was easy to see how Johnson, the champion, gets his modesty and manners, the "California cool" that has defined Jimmie's rise to superstardom.

 

"He's just a real champion," Childress said of Johnson. "I just had to come over here and congratulate him. It is unbelievable."

 

As Childress spoke about Jimmie, Gary Johnson beamed with pride.

 

"I am just so proud, and to hear Mr. Childress say something that good about Jimmie, it's just excellent," he shared with a smile.

 

Moments later, Tony Stewart stopped by the victory stage and congratulated Johnson and then left with Johnson's helmet -- a heartfelt gift from one-of-the-best to one-of-the-best.

 

"I'm really excited to go down there and give Jimmie Johnson a big hug because I'm really proud of him," the three-time champion Stewart said following his final race. "To be here on a historic day like this where we've got a fellow competitor that's tied the two greatest in the sport's history, it's truly an honor to finish my career like that."

 

RELATED: Touching post-race moment between Stewart, Johnson

 

The praise for Johnson's amazing accomplishment will continue. The respect is heartfelt and real.

 

It was one historic evening for one of NASCAR's all-time best -- the kind of happy ending that anyone would appreciate.

 

"It's just beyond words," Johnson said, trying to put his accomplishment in perspective. "We just kept our heads in the game. Chad (Knaus) called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs. Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship.

 

"I wouldn't be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance. Just thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. So grateful for the opportunity, and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words."

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