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.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:12 PM EST
Vegas pole sitter Joey Logano also talks about the issue.
Mar 7, 2014, 8:03 PM EST
In the waning moments of the final round of qualifying, Logano ran a lap of 193.278 mph to take the pole from teammate Brad Keselowski.
Mar 7, 2014, 6:05 PM EST
“It’s not 100,000 from Las Vegas that will be sitting in these grandstands.” – KB
Mar 7, 2014, 4:55 PM EST
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver says that right now, he’s more focused on working with the new aero rules and qualifying format.
Mar 7, 2014, 4:20 PM EST
Crew chief Rodney Childers, driver Casey Mears, and the impact of the new rules package at Las Vegas are all part of today’s show.
Mar 7, 2014, 4:13 PM EST
Kurt Busch’s quest to become the first NASCAR driver in a decade to attempt the “Double” – racing in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, and then flying to Charlotte to compete in that evening’s Coca-Cola 600 – just became even more challenging.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:47 PM EST
Edwards and his Roush Fenway teammates pick up the pace after a slow Thursday test.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:43 PM EST
For the next month or so, don’t be surprised if Greg Biffle starts to act a little like Dracula — a good Dracula, mind you.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
With a full-season ride in the NASCAR Euro Series, 33-year-old Mathias Lauda is set to add to his eclectic resume.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:12 PM EST
If you’re fortunate enough to spend any length of time around him, you’ll quickly find Matt Kenseth has a very dry wit. Think of a cross between comedians Steven Wright and the late George Carlin – just not so over-the-top as Carlin was.
Mar 7, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
SBJ report says Verizon will back series for 10 years.
Mar 7, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
“I’m sure there’s going to be more tension…But that’s what it’s all about. That’s why these drivers and teams are the best in the world.” – Graham Rahal
Mar 7, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Qualifying format change falls in line with other moves made by IMS/INDYCAR the last several months.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Out go Korea and India, in come Austria and Russia, changes made to the running order, a different season finale – and a new night race!
Mar 7, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
With all but two teams making changes to their line-up and three new rookies, the F1 grid is looking very different in 2014.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:52 PM EST
TV times and talent for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 in 2014.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
What are going to be the main themes for the new Formula 1 season? Be it noses, double points, Bernie or Kimi, it promises to be an exciting one.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
F1 tire supplier confirms eight testing days with teams in 2014, thus avoiding the ‘testgate’ scandal of 2013.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:37 AM EST
Two attempts for Indy qualifying required: one to get in, one to set starting order.
Mar 7, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
First target for Hulkenberg is to make it past the first lap at Albert Park, having failed to do so in three attempts.
- Joey Logano wins Vegas pole, Penske claims front row again 0
- 5 storylines that could define the 2014 F1 season 1
- Indianapolis 500 2014 Qualifying Format Revealed 5
- Schumacher “still in the wake up phase” 0
- Driver, team owner and now actor: Tony Stewart’s first edition of ‘Smoke is The Bandit’ is released (video) 0
- Instead of significant improvement, 2014 starting off the way 2013 ended for Danica Patrick (10)
- Kurt Busch gives IndyCar chance to show they’ve learned lesson on promotion (10)
- Alonso discovers an F1 take on Ellen’s Oscar “Selfie” (6)
- Chrysler orders nearly 100 pristine Dodge Vipers destroyed (6)
- Disastrous day for Red Bull as Vettel manages just half a lap (5)