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 22, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
Time has not lessened the significance of winning at Indy for these three NASCAR standouts.
Jul 22, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT
The Outlaw returns to Indianapolis for the first time since his Indy 500-Coke 600 double back in May.
Jul 22, 2014, 5:54 PM EDT
The Team Penske pilot is putting up his six-bedroom Miami penthouse for a cool $14 million. Better start saving up…
Jul 22, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
Seeking to catch up with their Ford stablemates at Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing’s trio of Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have been searching for speed in a two-day test session at Michigan International Speedway.
Jul 22, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The new, 92-foot pylon is made up of four LED panels capable of video animations that relay race info to fans.
Jul 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Recapping the future stars of IndyCar in action at Toronto this weekend.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
A report from Mexico says that Bernie Ecclestone has signed a five-year pact to bring F1 to Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez starting next season.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A miserable home weekend in Toronto strikes James Hinchcliffe yet again.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:41 PM EDT
Williams’ deputy team principal on Massa: “He is mature enough – and has enough experience in the sport – to realize that sometimes, things don’t go your way.”
Jul 22, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
Given politics, dates and dreams, could an IndyCar race at CTMP be possible?
Jul 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Ex-F1 shoe Jerome d’Ambrosio gets signed up for new FE series.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Kyle Larson’s got a new house, a new kid on the way and now a new Cottonelle ad he might not be able to live down.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:08 AM EDT
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff calls double points “unfair.”
Jul 22, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT
MST’s Tony DiZinno recaps the weekend in Toronto, that featured a host of surprises.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:26 AM EDT
The stretch of six races in four weekends is over, as is the stretch of doubleheader weekends for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Here’s the points breakdown.
Chase Elliott keeps winning, but he’s not finished capturing checkered flags this season by any stretch
Jul 22, 2014, 1:38 AM EDT
With the third win of his rookie Nationwide Series career, Chase Elliott continued to make it look easy in this past Saturday night’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Jul 21, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT
For Wallace and his Truck Series rivals, racing on dirt presents a different set of challenges – and thus requires a different way to train.
Jul 21, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
In a satellite radio interview, France shared his thoughts on the consortium of NASCAR’s most powerful teams.
Jul 21, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT
Jack Hawksworth will co-drive the No. 08 Prototype Challenge car for RSR Racing in Friday’s IMSA event on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Jul 21, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
Between his Eldora Speedway hosting the Truck Series and then competing at Indianapolis this weekend in Sprint Cup, Stewart’s in the middle of a busy week.
- Report: Toto Wolff speaks out against F1′s double points finale 2
- IndyCar: Toronto weekend analysis, musings and observations 0
- NASCAR’s Brian France on RTA’s formation: “We didn’t think it was necessary” 12
- Eldora and Indy putting a lot on Tony Stewart’s plate 0
- Todd Gilliland, 14, outdistances father David, grandfather Butch in first time they’ve all raced together 0