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, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
It all comes down to this. Get your NBC Sports Live Extra stream links for tonight’s MAVTV 500 – the 2014 season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series!
Aug 30, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT
Mikhail Aleshin still in hospital but in stable condition after accident Friday night at Auto Club Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The open-wheel veteran turns in a final-round lap of 109.889 mph around Canadian Tire Motorsports Park to claim pole for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano put the Happy in Happy Hour Saturday evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway, setting the top speeds in the final tuneup for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:56 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Chase Elliott has won three races thus far in his rookie season on the NASCAR Nationwide Series circuit. But the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has never won a pole position in the NNS – until Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT
This may be the strangest place we’ve seen Earnhardt’s iconic No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet in a long time.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — Johnny Morris, president of Bass Pro Shops and one of the primary sponsors of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet, released a statement of support for his close friend on Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Out of all the Chase-bound drivers, “Rowdy” may be the one in most need of a good performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — When you’re hot, you’re hot: Bristol winner Joey Logano and pole sitter Kevin Harvick were the fastest drivers in Saturday’s final Sprint Cup practice in preparation for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Lessons learned from Dale Earnhardt death readily seen in way NASCAR has dealt with Tony Stewart tragedy
Aug 30, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
While the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy occurred outside of its jurisdiction, it wasn’t the first time NASCAR has had to deal with tragedy and subsequent changes to the sport. One need look back no further than the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 for the resulting lessons that NASCAR learned from.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
However, Dillon isn’t neglecting his push for the championship in the Nationwide Series, which competes tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Spanish rider bounces back from a fall in practice to secure pole ahead of Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
German Quiroga and Andrew Ranger lead the way in a pair of practice sessions for the Camping World Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Expect the track to play a key role in Saturday’s MAVTV 500, more than most oval tracks.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Two-time F1 world champion weighs in on the Mercedes team orders debate.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Rumors about Ferrari’s line-up unfounded; Mattiacci plans to keep both Kimi and Fernando on for 2015.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
The high-speed circuit plays host to the Italian Grand Prix next weekend.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Charlie Kimball on last night’s accident with Mikhail Aleshin.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
The fight with Ferrari is set to rage on until the end of the season.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi is going into the Italian Grand Prix weekend with an open mind.
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