Nov 18, 2013, 1:03 AM EST
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.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
In the first half of our articles profiling the championship contenders, we take a look at the leader, Lewis Hamilton, ahead of Sunday’s showdown in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
Stewards in Abu Dhabi penalize the Frenchman after changes are made to his engine on Friday.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:45 AM EST
A great read from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Jimmy Fennig as he prepares for semi-retirement.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:32 AM EST
After topping FP1 earlier today, Hamilton doubles up in second practice as the sun sets in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:45 AM EST
With the addition of Caterham to the grid for this race, five cars will drop out in Q1 and Q2 in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 21, 2014, 7:45 AM EST
Lewis Hamilton looks to double up and pile the pressure on Nico Rosberg as the sun goes down in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 21, 2014, 7:20 AM EST
Cheese puns aside, FETA looks to give the ten teams racing in Formula E a voice in the new series.
Nov 21, 2014, 6:45 AM EST
Despite having a Sauber contract, Sutil will not be racing for the Swiss team in 2015.
Nov 21, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
“Kimi is probably the least complicated driver on the grid so in terms of performance on the track, when we talk about the skills Kimi has, I don’t think there is a single person in the paddock who doubts his skills, including myself.”
Nov 21, 2014, 5:32 AM EST
The world championship leader edges out teammate Nico Rosberg in the final FP1 session of the year.
Nov 21, 2014, 3:45 AM EST
First practice from Abu Dhabi is live on Live Extra from 4a ET today.
Nov 20, 2014, 8:29 PM EST
Joey Logano on a turnaround and breakout season.
Nov 20, 2014, 6:37 PM EST
After a month of voting and more than 350 ballots cast by their peers on all Sprint Cup teams, the top pit crew members and overall pit crews of 2014 were announced Thursday.
Nov 20, 2014, 5:56 PM EST
The No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team dodged a bullet Thursday when NASCAR announced less severe than expected penalties for unapproved rear suspension parts found last weekend at Homestead.
Nov 20, 2014, 4:24 PM EST
All the latest from the ground in Abu Dhabi from NBCSN’s Will Buxton in this week’s “Paddock Pass.”
Nov 20, 2014, 4:18 PM EST
TV times, title outlooks for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Nov 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Big night of F1 on NBC from 7 p.m. ET.
Nov 20, 2014, 3:09 PM EST
If you like wild, crazy and unpredictable, you won’t want to miss Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, airing LIVE at 5 pm ET on NBCSN.
Nov 20, 2014, 2:31 PM EST
In this edition of NASCAR Minute, Rick Allen and Kyle Petty talk about the wackiest things they saw this race season.
Nov 20, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
After his departure from Ferrari was announced today, Alonso drops the biggest hint yet that he will be driving for McLaren in 2015.
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- Hamilton quickest in second practice for Abu Dhabi GP 0
- First blood to Hamilton in Abu Dhabi as he tops FP1 0
- F1 Paddock Pass: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (VIDEO) 0
- The F1 champ is crowned on NBCSN from Abu Dhabi this weekend 0
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