Team owner Rick Hendrick, who was set to clinch his ninth owner crown whether Johnson or second-place challenger Mark Martin left Homestead with the trophy, was unable to attend. Hendrick's niece, daughter of his late brother, John Hendrick, had a medical emergency and Hendrick chose to stay with family.
Johnson and his team went on to celebrate, and there was no trophy for sentimental favorite Martin. But Martin shed no tears, either. His resurgence in 2009 was nothing short of remarkable in his fifth turn as runner-up.
Hendrick Motorsports wrapped up its season taking the top three spots in the standings, with Jeff Gordon finishing third. Gordon, part owner of the No. 48 team and the man responsible for bringing Johnson into the series, joked that Johnson "ticks him off," but was among the many drivers waiting in line to congratulate him.
Gordon called Johnson's dominance in 2009 "extraordinary," and he should know. Johnson's streak of excellence was last seen in the sport when Gordon dominated the series between 1995 and 1999. Gordon's third-place finish, while good, was disappointing. Although he finally got a win at Texas Motor Speedway, it was his only trip to victory lane in 2009. Gordon was also involved in several hard wrecks, most memorably at Watkins Glen.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport's most popular driver, is the other Hendrick pilot, but despite high hopes, he ended up the season in 25th place, with no wins.
But Earnhardt wasn't the only driver who had a big zero in the win column. Preseason favorite Carl Edwards, who won a whopping nine times in 2008, was unable to win in 2009. Although he qualified for the Chase, he finished the season in 11th and will not make the trip to Las Vegas for the awards show. Worse, he was involved in a spectacular wreck at Talladega on the circuit's first visit there this year.
Others who had their hopes dashed included Kyle Busch, who missed the Chase by a mere eight points. Busch was able to win the Nationwide title, however, a nice consolation prize. Edwards took second in that series.
Joey Logano wrapped up Rookie of the Year honors, finishing in 20th place. Logano had a wild first season, starting out poorly but then building momentum. Who can forget his wild ride barrel-rolling at Dover?
The series moves to Las Vegas for celebrations next week when teams and fans will reflect on the many ups and downs of the history-making 2009 season.
Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.