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.
Nov 28, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
A new regime will come into force at Maranello next season following a disappointing campaign in 2014.
Nov 28, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
British racer will remain with Williams for 2015 after becoming the first woman to take part in a grand prix weekend session in 22 years over the summer.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:46 PM EST
NHRA team owner Don Schumacher underwent surgery Wednesday for early-stage skin cancer.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:04 PM EST
NASCAR star Kyle Busch and wife Samantha dropped a very big hint that their first child may be a boy.
Nov 27, 2014, 7:28 PM EST
IndyCar driver Graham Rahal and NHRA driver Courtney Force announced their engagement Thursday in Venice, Italy.
Nov 27, 2014, 5:57 PM EST
Police continue to investigate the cause of death of Theresa Benn, who had been missing more than a month before her body was found last week near Talladega Superspeedway.
MST exclusive: BK Racing co-owner Anthony Marlowe apologizes for Cole Whitt/David Ragan tweet controversy
Nov 27, 2014, 3:23 PM EST
BK Racing minority owner Anthony Marlowe offers a public apology to MotorSportsTalk on his inadvertent tweet of Cole Whitt replacing David Ragan in the No. 34 car for 2015.
Nov 27, 2014, 2:16 PM EST
Steve Byrnes of Fox Sports gave friends and family a promising Thanksgiving update about his battle with Stage 4 head-and-neck cancer.
Nov 27, 2014, 10:45 AM EST
Hulkenberg gets an LMP1 opportunity with Porsche at Spa and Le Mans next season.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
What we’re thankful across the wide spectrum of motorsports in 2014.
Nov 26, 2014, 11:01 PM EST
If you’re in the Charlotte area and want to have a great Black Friday experience, head on over to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where for a donation, you can drive on the actual racetrack.
Sam Hornish Jr. has much to be thankful for: new home, renewed Sprint Cup hopes with Richard Petty Motorsports
Nov 26, 2014, 8:56 PM EST
Sam Hornish Jr. has a lot to give thanks for this Thanksgiving, most notably a new ride and a new lease on his Sprint Cup driving life with Richard Petty Motorsports.
Nov 26, 2014, 4:40 PM EST
NBCSN will present a 14-hour ‘Mecum Marathon’ starting Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.
Nov 26, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
Simon Pagenaud’s Indy 500 Senna tribute helmet to be auctioned for Ayrton Senna Foundation.
Nov 26, 2014, 2:29 PM EST
Front Row Motorsports officials on Wednesday denied rumors of Cole Whitt replacing David Ragan in the No. 34 Ford for 2015.
Nov 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EST
Record cable numbers for F1 on NBCSN this season.
Nov 26, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
A rundown through the field after the final day of on-track running for F1 2014.
Nov 26, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Some NASCAR AMERICA specials are on tap before the end of the year.
Nov 26, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Marciello gracious for opportunity, and was thinking of Jules Bianchi throughout the day.
Nov 26, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
A.J. Foyt with post-operative complication, but resolved.
Video from NASCAR America
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