Skip to content

NASCAR immortality now in reach for Jimmie Johnson

Nov 18, 2013, 1:03 AM EDT

Ford EcoBoost 400 Getty Images

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Hamilton bemused by Red Bull’s call for equalization in F1

    Mar 26, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1

    “I find it quite funny and interesting that the opinion is coming from individuals who have had so much success.”

  2. Now IndyCar’s champion, Will Power’s mindset hasn’t changed heading into 2015

    Mar 26, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT

    PowerbreakoutSTPpre AP

    He’s finally the champion, but Will Power enters 2015 still with more to prove.

  3. F1 Paddock Pass: Malaysian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

    Mar 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Previews Getty Images

    NBCSN’s Will Buxton brings you the latest insight and interviews ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

  4. Alonso moves to clear up testing crash conspiracy theories

    Mar 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Fernando Alons Fernando Alons

    Spaniard rejects claim that he thought he was in 1995 following his accident in pre-season.

  5. MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Malaysian GP

    Mar 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Previews Getty Images

    Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno give their verdict on this weekend’s Malaysian GP as Fernando returns, Manor hopes to fire up, and Red Bull prepares to declare war on Renault.

  6. 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

    Mar 26, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 Getty Images

    Formula 1 heads to Malaysia for the second round of the 2015 season, but will Lewis Hamilton be able to double up and maintain his winning streak?

  7. IndyCar 2015 team preview: Dale Coyne Racing

    Mar 26, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    IndyCar Detroit Auto Racing AP

    Coyne heads into the season with two lesser experienced drivers, but looks to play spoiler.

  8. Can IndyCar’s next generation take it to the established veterans?

    Mar 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    IndyCar has a wave of younger talent in the series, who need to start winning sooner rather than later.

  9. Alonso and Bottas cleared by FIA to race in Malaysia

    Mar 26, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Australian F1 Grand Prix Getty Images

    Both drivers failed to race in Australia due to injury, but will return this weekend.

  10. Adrian Sutil joins Williams as reserve driver

    Mar 26, 2015, 6:38 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-BRA-F1-PRESSER-SUTIL Getty Images

    Ex-Force India and Sauber man moves to Williams for 2015.

  11. Fernando Alonso talks return in Malaysian GP

    Mar 25, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Three Getty Images

    Fernando Alonso will start his 2015 F1 season in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

  12. Nowhere to go but up for Lotus at Malaysia GP

    Mar 25, 2015, 3:57 PM EDT

    Australian F1 Grand Prix Getty Images

    After both of its cars failed to finish a lap in the season opener, Lotus looks toward the Malaysian Grand Prix.

  13. Malaysian Grand Prix highlights NBCSN’s weekend of motors coverage

    Mar 25, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Malaysia F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Your Malaysian GP TV times for this weekend on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

  14. Malaysian Grand Prix means a lot for Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat

    Mar 25, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia Getty Images

    Daniil Kyvat putting Melbourne mishap behind him going into Malaysia Grand Prix.

  15. Video: IndyCar’s new ‘Rivals’ national TV commercial

    Mar 25, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

    verizon indycar series logo 2014

    Watch the new TV commercial for IndyCar’s 2015 season.

  16. IndyCar 2015 team preview: Bryan Herta Autosport

    Mar 25, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Photo: Bryan Herta Autosport Photo: Bryan Herta Autosport

    Rookie driver, single-car team, and still high hopes for Bryan Herta Autosport in 2015.

  17. Are IndyCar’s new aero kits set to change the game in 2015?

    Mar 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Chevrolet and Honda have new body kits. Will they help to bring IndyCar into a new market?

  18. MRTI: Entry lists for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 at St. Pete

    Mar 24, 2015, 6:11 PM EDT

    MazdaRoadToIndy

    Entry lists for the MRTI weekend season-opener.

  19. Brabham reflective, focused heading into St. Pete Indy Lights one-off

    Mar 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Milwaukee IndyFest - Day 1 Getty Images

    “Matty Brabs” focused and reflective in what is, for now, a one-off only race at St. Petersburg.