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NASCAR immortality now in reach for Jimmie Johnson

Nov 18, 2013, 1:03 AM EDT

Ford EcoBoost 400 Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson couldn’t be blamed for wanting to truly savor his sixth Sprint Cup championship on Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He wanted to enjoy it for what it was, and not simply as another stepping stone toward seven-time Cup champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

But he also seemed to know that the debate of ‘greatest NASCAR driver ever’ that has centered for several decades around The King and The Intimidator will intensify further now that he’s made his way into it.

“I have six, and we will see if I get seven,” he said after winning Title No. 6 by 19 points over Matt Kenseth via a ninth-place finish in the season-ending Ford Ecoboost 400.

“Time will tell. I think we need to save the argument until I hang up the helmet – then it’s worth the argument. If people want to argue and fight about it right now, then they can. But let’s wait until I hang up the helmet before we start thinking about this.”

Those words will surely not be heeded by the sport’s diehards, who now must consider Johnson among the greatest stock car drivers of all time.

He continues to thrive in one of, if not the most competitive age in NASCAR history – constantly setting the bar higher and higher. And this dominance seems to have no end in sight.

Johnson would appear to have at least a good decade still ahead of him in the cockpit and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, led by crew chief extraordinaire Chad Knaus, remains the model of consistency even as its core has changed considerably.

“We’ve taken a group of new individuals, new engineers, mechanics, pit crew members; they’ve all evolved into a pretty spectacular team,” Knaus said. “I don’t think we’re even close to the potential of the team yet. That’s exciting for me.”

How heart-breaking, soul-crushing, and utterly deflating must those words mean to those forced to battle Johnson every week – not to mention those NASCAR fans who feel Johnson is simply benefiting from being part of the best team in the garage?

For his part, Knaus credited team owner Rick Hendrick for giving Johnson and the team all the resources they need to contend at every race. But that doesn’t take away from Johnson’s pure talent.

“He can do things with a race car that most mortals can’t,” Knaus said. “He’s very into what it is we’re doing. He’s very studious, very intuitive of what’s happening around him, what’s going on when we’re testing or racing. He feeds us great information.

“He’s pretty spectacular. I mean, he really, really is.”

Indeed, he is. But how much more spectacular can he become? Let’s face facts: From this point forward, Johnson will be expected to eclipse both Petty and Earnhardt.

The pieces appear to be in place for an assault on the record books – a driver who is physically and mentally on top, a crew chief that pays a tremendous level of attention to the details, and a team that will only grow stronger over time.

All of them bonded by the hunger to win.

“I think we just are very competitive,” said Hendrick, now an 11-time Sprint Cup owner’s champion. “When we show up, we want to do the best we can.  Everybody in every department, they push each other to go to the next level.”

That’s where the No. 48 went in the Chase. Going into the post-season, Johnson suffered four consecutive finishes outside the Top 25 – 40th at Michigan, 36th at Bristol, 28th at Atlanta, and 40th in the regular season finale at Richmond.

But in the final 10 races, Johnson scored two wins, seven Top-5s and nine Top-10s. The average finish? 5.1.

“I can look back on a few tracks and think we could have had a few more points, but it really was a strong 10 weeks,” Johnson said of finishing the season with a flourish. “Last year, we had eight great weeks, didn’t come up with it. [This year,] Matt had nine.

“You have to have 10 great weeks to be the champion and we got it done this year.”

“We got it done this year.”

How many times do you think we’ll hear Johnson say that again before his career ends and, according to him, it’ll be time to have the argument over who is the greatest NASCAR driver ever? By then, there could be no argument at all.

Richard, Dale…You have company coming.

  1. quickdraw53 - Nov 18, 2013 at 1:28 AM

    he earned the title and they all worked hard at getting to it too. so see ya JJ. have a great time with your time off and enjoy your little gir and wife too

  2. machine64red2 - Nov 18, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    It’s going to be one crazy party in Vegas! Can’t wait to see you there!

  3. badgerbuck - Nov 18, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    I thought NASCAR was gone,very surprised to see that it still in business,by the looks of things not to many people know it’s still running as well

  4. laserw - Nov 18, 2013 at 6:42 PM

    I wish someone in the sports media would pursue this story of collusion and potential criminal activity.

    On July/August of 2012, NASCAR approved the Chevrolet SS for use in NASCAR racing. In every year that NASCAR has approved a vehicle for use, it must actually be sold to consumers to qualify. Through 26 races to qualify for the NASCAR championship, not one Chevrolet SS was sold to any consumer. Not one.

    In October 2013, precisely ONE Chevrolet SS was sold to a consumer – unknown person.

    It is unethical and unprofessional for a manufacturer such as Chevrolet to misrepresent and to lie about when its vehicle would be available for sale and since NASCAR bases its rulings on what is eligible to race on what manufacturers represent, there is now a question that should be raised.

    How can ANY win by a driver of a Chevrolet SS be allowed? Clearly NASCAR does not intend to allow a car to be raced if only one vehicle has been sold – in the 1960’s, you had to sell hundreds and then up to a 1000 to qualify.

    And since no Chevrolet SS was sold prior to the Chase, how can a Championship winner be determined using an ineligible car? Since his wins were illegitimate (none of the SS’s were sold in 26 races), then how does he qualify for the Chase? How can he win a Championship when at the very minimum, half of the Chase races were already run PRIOR to the first sale of the SS?

    NASCAR and Chevrolet have a lot of explaining to do since Jimmy Johnson and all of Hendrick Motorsports and all Chevrolet drivers were driving a vehicle that never qualified to be raced – improper equipment gets drivers disqualified – and this is one of the most egregious examples of unethical conduct in sports history!

    • charger383 - Nov 18, 2013 at 7:35 PM

      Toyota does not sell a car close enough to base a Nascar racecar on

    • indycarseries500 - Nov 19, 2013 at 9:06 AM

      NASCAR polled everyone in the entire world and found you were the only one who cared.

    • worknman24hours - Nov 25, 2013 at 10:13 AM

      This is a valid point but it is also proof that big sponsor pockets trump rules in ANY form of motorsport.

      Eventually a major sponsors money especially if it has teams it favors in the sport it is sponsoring, will corrupt any sport it touches.

      Sometimes that takes years, more often, these days, it can happen in just one season in the sport.

  5. charger383 - Nov 18, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    Richard Petty, Dale Sr and Jimmy Johnson are the best of their era. Factory backed Winston Cup when Petty was his best, the Chase era and time between were different, I would like to see how Jimmy and Dale Sr could have run in Petty’s cars and what the King could do in a Hendrick car.

    Just think about Dale, Sr in a 70 Superbird without a restricter plate

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