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.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:00 PM EST
The staff at New Hampshire Motor Speedway got into the holiday spirit, caroling with a unique NASCAR twist in a newly-released video.
Dec 20, 2014, 6:29 PM EST
Matt Henderson, Henderson Motorsports, and local businesses deliver presents and gifts to family in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Dec 20, 2014, 5:29 PM EST
Times Square’s ‘ball drop’ will have nothing on Indianapolis as it lowers an Indy Car as the final seconds of 2014 tick off.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Michael Tatoian has been able to help bring additional events to the Monster Mile beyond its two NASCAR weekends.
Dec 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Carl Edwards was the most sought-after Sprint Cup free agent in 2014. After more than a decade with Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards announced he will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.
Dec 20, 2014, 3:35 PM EST
Red Bull Straight Rhythm is a one-of-a-kind event, featuring an “unwound” supercross track and head-to-head racing. Tune in to NBC to see how it all played out.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
BayernLB sues Ecclestone and his family holding for 345 million Euros.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Dillon made a big first impression and then quietly learned the ropes in Sprint Cup.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Clint Bowyer endured the worst season of his Sprint Cup career in 2014. He hasn’t won a race since 2012, but 2015 could be a comeback year for him.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:40 AM EST
Can’t say these sweaters aren’t memorable.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EST
Daughter of legendary Funny Car champ John Force, Brittany Force is out to prove that 2015 will be her year in NHRA Top Fuel racing.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Jr., spent a recent testing day in a Formula 4 car, a possible prelude to following in his famous father’s footsteps.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Edwards’ Arris car won’t be hard to find in a pack next year.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Rare, intriguing call for CGR to put two lesser-experienced drivers in No. 01 car.
Dec 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
Williams’ stellar 2014 season, recapped in pictures and words.
Dec 19, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth proved that consistency still pays.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:49 PM EST
The fan-favorite Sprint Experience at NASCAR tracks across the country is apparently no longer, according to a media report.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
McMurray shined at the All-Star Race in May but missed out on a 2014 Chase berth.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:57 PM EST
Kyle Larson had a tremendous rookie season in 2014. If he was that good this season, imagine how much better he’ll be next season and seasons to come.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Felipe Nasr’s No. 12 rounds out the F1 grid number choices for 2015.
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