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.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Former Red Bull F1 driver finishes third, while Porsche’s GTE-Pro squads finish 1-2 in class.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
Trophies and big paychecks are no longer the only things a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and team get when they win a race. Now they get a big breakfast, too. According to Statesville.com, the Boxcar Grille in Statesville, N.C., has begun serving breakfast to winning teams in the Charlotte area after they return from capturing a Cup race.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Both of their Le Mans Prototypes fail to see the checkered flag at Silverstone due to accidents.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
While he probably can’t throw a football more than 20 or 30 yards, Chad Knaus is a diehard Carolina Panthers fan. And while football and stock car racing are polar opposites, they do have some similarities, particularly when it comes to team building, success, strategy and preparation for each game or race. Knaus, a six-time Sprint Cup champion crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, recently called Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera to throw around and share ideas that might be beneficial to both men.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Hermie Sadler will never be confused with former wrestling greats Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin – not even Rik “Wooooo” Flair. But the NASCAR analyst for Fox Sports 1 has been a longtime fan of wrestling and will now become somewhat of a decision maker, too.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT
Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, and Nicolas Lapierre take the No. 8 Toyota to the win in the Six Hours of Silverstone.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT
More than 20 years after graduating, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going back to school. Well, for at least one day. Earnhardt will take part in a two-hour session on May 8 with two student groups, wrapped around an all-school assembly at Seaman High School in Topeka, Kansas, according to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Apr 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
We hope your Easter’s filled with family, friends…and maybe some jelly beans.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Finn can only come home in eighth for Ferrari, some 50 seconds behind teammate Fernando Alonso.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Largely unnoticed, these two youngsters were brilliant today in China.
Apr 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
German driver saw no reason to follow team orders, but soon realised that there was no point in holding Ricciardo up.
Apr 20, 2014, 7:15 AM EDT
German driver downbeat after losing to Hamilton yet again, but in the grand scheme of things, it was a great result.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:30 AM EDT
Embarrassing error sees race end on lap 54, not lap 56; Kobayashi the only driver to lose a position.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:15 AM EDT
Ferrari ends torrid week with something to smile about as Alonso finishes third in China.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:47 AM EDT
German driver refuses to let Daniel Ricciardo past at first, but ultimately thinks better of it.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:30 AM EDT
British driver delighted with team effort, and pleased to see teammate Nico Rosberg reach the podium again.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:43 AM EDT
British driver goes wire-to-wire to claim his third straight win and number 25 of his F1 career.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:15 AM EDT
As the Mercedes turf war rumbles on, Red Bull and Ferrari will be waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:00 AM EDT
Here’s how the drivers will line up for the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix today, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 2:30am ET.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:30 AM EDT
He has come close before, but Hamilton finally can make it three wins in a row today in China.
- VIDEO: Vettel explains decision to not let Ricciardo past 2
- Chinese GP called two laps early after checkered flag mix-up 2
- VIDEO: Vettel ignores team orders, telling team “tough luck” 14
- Hamilton makes it three with lights to flag victory in China 0
- WATCH LIVE: Can anyone spring a Shanghai surprise? 0
- VIDEO: Vettel ignores team orders, telling team “tough luck” (16)
- American-based F1 franchise, Haas Formula, officially introduced (9)
- In re-released interview, Brad Keselowski recalls how Rick Hendrick left him heartbroken (8)
- Maldonado brushes off crash and spin in practice (7)
- Former FIA prez Max Mosley rubbishes F1′s ongoing noise saga (6)