Nov 18, 2013, 1:03 AM EDT
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.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:09 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski started from the pole, led the second-most number of laps in the race (78), overcame a late wreck and still almost won Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Prior to last week’s opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick said it would take wins and uncanny consistency to advance to the final four, winner-take-all battle in the season-ending race at Homestead.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
The Connecticut native joins Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the Contender Round with his victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT
Kenseth was running in the Top 10, when Paul Menard washed up into him and sent him spinning into the wall with 31 laps to go at New Hampshire.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:38 PM EDT
Kurt Busch had a tire rub on his Haas Automation Chevrolet when the right front tire appeared to blow on Lap 222 of the 300-lap Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, sending him hard into the wall and suffering right front end damage.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Several drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup suffered damage to their respective race cars in a wreck that involved Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman with just over 100 laps to go in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
4 p.m. ET – Already several laps down, Hamlin was caught in a multi-car crash that also involved Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, and Cole Whitt.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
Kevin Harvick is the halfway leader of Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Joey Logano is running second, followed by Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Jamie McMurray.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Spanish driver still pleased with the race weekend in Singapore, feeling that Ferrari has made a step forwards.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Less than a week after a track flagman was killed at a Florida short track, a Wisconsin sprint car driver was killed following a wreck on Saturday night.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Bottas finishes outside of the points for the first time in 2014, with his only other non-score the result of a DNF at Monaco.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Kvyat and Magnussen both go without water for much of the race, leaving them dehydrated following the race.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
German driver lost the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in four months.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Less downforce? More horsepower? Or something else entirely? It sounds like we won’t have to wait much longer on what the 2015 Sprint Cup rules package will bring.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Australian driver enjoys a great deal of home support in Singapore, but feels that Red Bull should have been closer to Mercedes.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Singapore GP winner admits that he had worries about the reliability of his car following Nico Rosberg’s retirement.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
J.R. Fitzpatrick won last night’s season finale, but Dumoulin’s ninth-place finish enables him to claim the championship in Canada’s top stock car series.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
14th to sixth in the final stages of the race caps off a great race for Jean-Eric Vergne.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
German driver misses out on fourth straight win at Marina Bay, but pulls a great result out of the bag to move back up to fifth in the drivers’ championship.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
The British driver has completed a great turnaround – a swing of 32 points in three races – to re-take the lead of the championship today.
- Joey Logano avoids “yellow fever,” wins at N.H. to advance in Chase 0
- Wreck involves several Chase drivers; Keselowski spins, suffers minor damage 0
- Rosberg reflects on a tough day in Singapore (VIDEO) 1
- Reports: 2015 Sprint Cup rules package expected to be released on Tuesday 0
- Hamilton rules in Singapore to re-take championship lead as Rosberg retires 0
- Rosberg forced to retire in Singapore after electrical glitch 0
- Brendan Gaughan takes lead with 6 laps to go, wins Nationwide at Kentucky 0