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NASCAR Playoffs: A Bang On The Track But A Whimper On TV

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Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 and the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2016 in Homestead, Florida.

Driver Jimmie Johnson cemented his place in NASCAR history Sunday night by winning his seventh championship. But NASCAR's playoffs struggled with TV ratings this year.

Jimmie Johnson sealed off his competitors on the final lap and raced his way into the record books.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_ceSvbI5nQ

"Make room, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt!" the announcer yelled. "There's another seven-time champ!"

Johnson joins those old-school NASCAR legends as the only drivers with seven championships.

He's nowhere near as popular as they were. His clean, somewhat corporate image hasn't resonated the same way. In his press conference, Johnson talked about what he normally sees from race fans. 

"I usually get flipped off a lot," he said. "I mean, they shoot me the bird everywhere we are - every state, everywhere we go."

But he says as he rode around the track before the championship race, he saw fans throwing a different signal. They were holding up seven fingers.

"It just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things," he said. "I think the fact that we were in the position we were to tie history, even people wearing other hats and other tee shirts that normally shoot me the bird were holding up seven.  It was really cool."

Johnson said he's now looking forward to racing for his eighth championship.

NASCAR calls its playoffs the Chase, and its ratings declined substantially. The championship race was down 25 percent from last year, and the race before had the worst rating since at least 2000, according to Sports Media Watch. 

The NFL's ratings are also down.

"You're seeing TV ratings slide all over the place in sports, right?" NASCAR CEO Brian France said in a press conference. "You're seeing all kinds of things happen. Digital audience is consuming things differently. Attendance has been fine. It could always be better, but we're pleased with where we're at."

France said the championship race was sold out and NASCAR's digital following is "off the charts." NASCAR has added digital jobs at its corporate building in uptown Charlotte.