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.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:39 PM EDT
It wasn’t the result, but the strength, of Oriol Servia in Justin Wilson’s car this weekend that shown through.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:34 PM EDT
A look at how the championship hopes for the three drivers ended in the GoPro GP of Sonoma.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:49 PM EDT
Dixon pulls off a shocker in Sonoma.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT
Juan Pablo Montoya blamed the double-points awarded in the season finale for missing out on the IndyCar championship.
Aug 30, 2015, 8:47 PM EDT
Rahal endures disastrous finale at Sonoma, falls from second to fourth after 18th place finish.
Aug 30, 2015, 7:18 PM EDT
Dixon wins race, title in Sonoma in dramatic fashion.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
Will Power and Juan Montoya must fight from the back of the field following an accident.
Aug 30, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT
Robin Miller remembers Justin Wilson in this touching tribute.
Aug 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Webber and the no. 17 Porsche crew claimed their first win at the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on Sunday.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Chevrolet wins its fourth straight INDYCAR Manufacturer’s Championship.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
With heavy hearts, IndyCar moves ahead and will crown its champion this afternoon in Sonoma.
Aug 30, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Catch up on the Red Bull Global Rallycross season at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
Aug 30, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Maldonado keen to make up for his DNF in the Belgian Grand Prix at Monza.
Aug 30, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
What to watch for ahead of the 16th and final round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma from Sonoma Raceway.
Aug 30, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Pole-sitter Will Power claimed the fastest time in the 30-minute session.
Aug 30, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard claim their first WEC victory since joining forces at the beginning of the 2014 season.
Aug 30, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Grosjean sets his sights on repeating his third-place finish in Belgium last weekend.
Aug 30, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
“If somebody wants to go into Formula 1 and they think that they can do it from one to the next year, I think he shouldn’t try to do it.”
Aug 30, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
While there’s no shortage of wineries in Napa Valley, few have racing tie-ins, and fewer still get a racing tie-in at Sonoma Raceway – here’s the story of the Trefethen Family Vineyards.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:04 AM EDT
Rossi wins a wet-weather thriller to regain the lead of the MotoGP world championship.
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- Scott Dixon captures Sonoma race win and 2015 IndyCar championship (VIDEO) 9
- Robin Miller pays tribute to Justin Wilson (VIDEO) 1
- WATCH LIVE: IndyCar’s championship decided in Sonoma at 1 p.m. PT, 4 ET on NBCSN 1
- What to watch for: IndyCar at Sonoma (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra) 0
- Porsche’s no. 17 car surges to maiden WEC victory in 6 Hours of Nürburgring 2
- Audi boss Ullrich laughs off continual F1 rumors 2