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But there’s a mental toughness required in being a champion, and through all these years, Johnson feels like he’s mastered it. He tweaked Hamlin over the final few weeks with pointed barbs about nerves and pressure, all the while staying cool and calm.

It most certainly worked on Sunday, which turned into a battle of which driver made the fewest mistakes.

Hamlin was the loser of that fight, spinning early from contact with Greg Biffle that many believe was a brain-fade on Hamlin’s part. And Harvick was caught speeding on pit road moments before a flawless pit stop pushed him into the lead, and the penalty took him out of race-winning contention.

That was Harvick’s only true shot to win the title, and he settled for third in the race and third in the standings.

Johnson, who overcame several shaky pit stops from his crew, remained smooth and steady and became the first driver in the seven-year history of the Chase to come from behind in the season finale to win the title. He’s also just the third driver since 1975 who trailed in the standings at the start of the final race to rally and win the championship.

“I’d go out and say right now I couldn’t do what he’s done, and people claim me to the best thing since whatever,” said Kyle Busch, winner of 86 races spanning six seasons in NASCAR’s top three series. “I can’t do what Jimmie’s done.”

“It’s spectacular,” Edwards said. “I think we are all witnessing something that is nothing short of spectacular.”

And Johnson knows that, too.

He doesn’t care about popularity among mainstream sports fans, and he shrugs off suggestions that race car drivers aren’t true athletes.

With five championship trophies sitting in front of him in the sand, he doesn’t need confirmation that he ranks among the greatest of all-time.

And he won’t say where he believes he ranks, either.

“I don’t know if I can answer a question like that. I can’t,” he said. “The driver or a person should not be up there saying, ‘I’m great.’ That’s just not my deal. At least me. I’m not going to do it.

“But I’m very proud of what we’ve done.”

As he should be.