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.
Oct 20, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Six different teams are represented among the eight remaining Chasers, and NASCAR’s post-season is starting to resemble another familiar tournament. NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton discuss.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
Newman, one of the “Eliminator 8,” may be penalized tomorrow by NASCAR after his car was found to be too low following Sunday’s race at Talladega. Nate Ryan has more on the situation.
Oct 20, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Notes and numbers to keep in mind as the 8 remaining Chasers prepare to begin the Eliminator Round.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Recapping Talladega on NASCAR AMERICA.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:01 PM EDT
A great post-season for Busch was erased by a mid-race crash on Sunday at Talladega, but crew chief Dave Rogers says there’s no point in blaming the rules of the new Chase.
Oct 20, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Miami Formula E circuit revealed.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Prepare to have this track bouncing in your head all day.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
What to know heading into the next round of NASCAR’s Chase.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
They say they always do things bigger in Texas, and that phrase would perfectly describe legendary former drag racer and NASCAR team owner Raymond Beadle.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
Coby finishes 17th in the season finale at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, but earns the 2014 series title by 22 points over race winner Ryan Preece.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Turner on the move to PWC from IMSA.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Beadle helped bring the “Blue Max” brand to prominence in drag racing, and guided NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace to his lone Winston Cup title.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
DTM champion will test for Toro Rosso.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Both of Team Penske’s drivers advance to Eliminator round of Chase, which saves the ignominy of one of the winningest drivers this year going home.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
The organization says it will make a full presentation on its findings during the next World Motor Sport Council meeting in December.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Love him or loathe him, Keselowski deserves respect for coming through in the clutch like he did on Sunday.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
After Cassill, Kvapil’s sixth leads a quartet of more surprise drivers in top-20 Sunday at Talladega.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Ricciardo comes to the U.S. early for Supercross.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
A potential nightmare situation for Sprint Cup’s new Chase still exists, in the form of two as-yet winless drivers still battling for a title in 2014.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Career day for Landon Cassill ends not only with his first Cup top-five, but first top-10.
Video from NASCAR America
- WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 7 p.m. ET recaps Talladega 0
- Remembering racing legend Raymond Beadle: ‘Once upon a time, I was the best at what I did’ 1
- Weekend wrap: Brad Keselowski rises up to Talladega challenge 0
- The irony of a winless driver winning a title in the new Chase still exists 1
- Roger Penske defends Keselowski, says other drivers “jealous” of his success 3
- What will NASCAR fans do now that their favorite drivers are eliminated from Chase? 9
- Brad Keselowski wins at Talladega on 2nd G-W-C attempt, advances in Chase 10