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.
NHRA: Anderson wins 4th of ’15, Stoffer over Sampey in 3rd all-female final in NHRA history; Kalitta, Beckman also win
Jul 5, 2015, 9:53 PM EDT
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) took home wins in Sunday’s NHRA race in Norwalk, Ohio.
Jul 5, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Block wins at MCAS New River, Round 4 of the Red Bull GRC season.
Jul 5, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Before NASCAR resumes on NBC from Daytona, see Red Bull GRC pick up its season from its first race after Daytona, at MCAS New River.
Jul 5, 2015, 3:06 PM EDT
Will Buxton brings you all of the post-race interviews and analysis at Silverstone.
Jul 5, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens finish 12th and 13th at Manor’s home race.
Jul 5, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Brazilian driver forced to settle for fourth place at Silverstone on Sunday.
Jul 5, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Issue on the Renault power unit forces Ricciardo out of the race at Silverstone.
Jul 5, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Could today have marked Valtteri Bottas’ first victory in Formula 1?
Jul 5, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
A late rain shower allows Vettel to claim Ferrari’s first podium finish since the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.
Jul 5, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
After a poor start, Rosberg fights his way to second place at Silverstone, but slips further behind Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.
Jul 5, 2015, 10:05 AM EDT
Hamilton won his home grand prix for the third time on Sunday after seeing off a spirited challenge from Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and both Williams drivers.
Jul 5, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT
Hamilton beats the weather and the field to record his third victory at Silverstone.
Jul 5, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Rossi charges to fourth place in spite of a time penalty.
Jul 5, 2015, 7:15 AM EDT
Can Lewis Hamilton win for a third time on home soil? Or will Nico Rosberg spoil his homecoming?
Jul 5, 2015, 6:31 AM EDT
Everything you need to know ahead of today’s race at Silverstone.
Jul 4, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Watch latest INDYCAR Chronicles with Josef Newgarden.
Jul 4, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The coinage of a new term took place at Silverstone on Thursday thanks for Force India’s owner.
Jul 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Both Ferraris will start behind Williams for the first time in 2015 on Sunday.
- NHRA: Anderson wins 4th of ’15, Stoffer over Sampey in 3rd all-female final in NHRA history; Kalitta, Beckman also win 0
- Ken Block seizes opportunity, wins Red Bull GRC at MCAS New River 0
- F1 Paddock Pass: British Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO) 0
- Emotional Hamilton tears up on last lap of British GP, thanks fans for support en route to win 0
- Hamilton weathers the storm to claim third British GP victory at Silverstone 1
- Hamilton storms to home pole position at British GP 3
- Hamilton closes out British GP practice fastest 0