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.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Action Express wins Indy; RSR, Viper and Ferrari the other TUDOR Championship class winners.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
After Tanner Foust emerged as the victor of a riotous final in New York, the beat goes on for Red Bull GRC this weekend with a trip to The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
On Friday’s edition, the NASCAR America crew discussed the favorites for Sunday’s Brickyard 400. And not surprisingly, Jimmie Johnson is the easy pick — but there are a few other drivers who could contend.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:26 PM EDT
On Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, Sam Hornish Jr. joined Leigh Diffey to discuss Jimmie Johnson’s quest for his fifth Brickyard 400 win. Hornish noted that Johnson’s first win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a positive turning point for his team.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT
On Friday’s NASCAR America, Clint Bowyer talked about handling Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s 21st annual Brickyard 400, as well as his teams’ improvement and his hopes of getting into and winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
After a long day of testing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Penske Racing teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power went to see a movie Wednesday in Mansfield, Ohio. Check out Montoya’s hilarious tale about what they saw.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
“Every day I wake up and I’m like, ‘Yes, let’s do it again.’ Then there are thoughts of ‘I finished sixth, that’s pretty special.’ I don’t know if I could achieve that result again.” – Outlaw
Jul 25, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – Juan Pablo Montoya has twice come close to winning the Brickyard 400, only to suffer maladies that kept him from kissing the finish line bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in celebration.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT
The former Sprint Cup champion steps behind the counter and serves up cold ones…Of truth.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:58 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone seems to be concerned Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race thus far in 2014 – everyone, that is, except Kenseth himself.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
The four-time Brickyard 400 champion says he had to go against his “natural tendencies” as a driver in order to become as successful as he has been at Indy.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
All of the latest news and analysis from the paddock at the Hungaroring.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Red Bull leading the race for the podium in Hungary, but Ricciardo still has some concerns.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 pm ET — Hornish on nuances of Indy, JJ and Bowyer, Indiana racing history
Jul 25, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT
On Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, Leigh Diffey will again be joined in-studio by 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2014 Nationwide Series Iowa winner Sam Hornish Jr.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
P1 and P2 in both practice sessions, but not 100% where they want to be.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT
Defending Brickyard 400 winner would push for mid-week races if he were in charge of creating the Sprint Cup schedule.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Kenseth took the first step towards his first win of 2014 – and his first career win in the Brickyard 400 – recording the fastest speed in Friday’s sole Sprint Cup practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Brembo and Mercedes release a joint statement concerning the incident during qualifying for the German Grand Prix.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
Nationwide Series rookie continues to show strong pace ahead of Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250.
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