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.
Apr 25, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Spanish rider was sidelined following the Qatar Grand Prix due to an arm pump injury.
Apr 25, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Preview the track that will host the next Formula E race on May 9.
Apr 25, 2015, 11:17 AM EDT
Scott Dixon takes the Coca-Cola car to the top of the first practice session at Barber.
Apr 25, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Former F1 world champion and Indy 500 winner hits out at Alonso’s move to McLaren and Manor’s inclusion on the grid.
Apr 25, 2015, 10:12 AM EDT
Qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ race at Barber has been moved up to 5 p.m. ET, and 4 p.m. CT and local time on NBCSN.
Apr 25, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT
Conor Daly has been confirmed in the Indianapolis 500 in SPM’s third car.
Apr 24, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT
Honda takes the wraps off the new Accord safety car.
Apr 24, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Pigot scores his first Indy Lights pole at Barber.
Apr 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Formula E’s championship leader looks ahead to his adopted home race in Monaco on May 9.
Apr 24, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
2014 GP2 champion reflects on the opening four races of the year with Lotus.
WSR: Comtec pulls out of first Formula Renault 3.5 round, parts company with Regalia after three days
Apr 24, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Grid falls to 20 cars for the Formula Renault 3.5 opener in Spain this weekend.
Apr 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
The Indian Grand Prix was last held in 2013 at the Buddh International Circuit.
Apr 24, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Audi and Porsche will field three cars for the next two races of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Red Bull has made a slow start to the 2015 season due to a variety of problems with the RB11 car.
Apr 24, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Venezuelan driver currently bottom of the table after just one finish in four races.
Apr 24, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT
To reference the Smashing Pumpkins, Barber is the beginning of the end of the beginning for IndyCar 2015.
Apr 23, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT
Andretti Autosport’s Mazda Road to Indy program goes to Barber Motorsports Park with one less Indy Lights entry.
Apr 23, 2015, 6:38 PM EDT
Graham Rahal aims to continue consistent success of one-car team at Barber Motorsports Park.
Ryan Hunter-Reay looks to right 2015 season by completing winning trilogy at Barber Motorsports Park
Apr 23, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
Ryan Hunter-Reay looks to turn season around at track he’s won last two races at.
- WATCH: IndyCar qualifying from Barber at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Live Extra 0
- Preview: Barber marks end of IndyCar’s first quarter of 2015 (VIDEO) 0
- Ryan Hunter-Reay looks to right 2015 season by completing winning trilogy at Barber Motorsports Park 0
- As GP2 turns 10 years old, where is the Class of ’05 now? 0
- Here’s your IndyCar times for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama 0
- F1: Year-on-year, Ferrari’s gains, Mercedes’ continued edge reins after four races 0
- Racing community reflects on the loss of Fox Sports’ broadcaster Steve Byrnes 8