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.
Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday
Oct 23, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT
This is a column that should never have been written, about an event that never should have happened.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
Legendary motorsports team owner and innovator — and Kentucky native — Jack Roush will be inducted this Saturday into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. Roush was born in Covington, Ky.
Oct 23, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty joined Dave Briggs to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash and how the team recovered from it.
Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months
Oct 23, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
For the second time in 18 months, police in the area of Talladega Superspeedway are investigating the disappearance of a race fan who had intended to go to the Sprint Cup race at the 2.66-mile racetrack.
Enrique Contreras III, nephew of Carlos Contreras, to make first NASCAR truck race start at Martinsville
Oct 23, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Enrique Contreras III, nephew of veteran Mexican racer Carlos Contreras, will make his NASCAR debut in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Race at Martinsville Speedway.
Oct 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
GTSport Racing returns with Jack Baldwin and Buz McCall.
Oct 23, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Martinsville preview on tap in Thursday’s NASCAR AMERICA.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Marsh, Cameron on the move to Action Express.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
Fernandes claims he didn’t receive full payment for Caterham, the new owners claim they haven’t received their shares, Bernie Ecclestone says he is trying to remedy the situation – but all the while, workers are locked out of the factory, putting the team’s hopes of making Austin in doubt.
Oct 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Brendan Gaughan back for another year with RCR in XFINITY.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez signed up for COTA fan forum.
Oct 23, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Wurth renews for multiyear deal.
Oct 22, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski is flattered people might compare him with the late Dale Earnhardt, but he’ll be the first to say he’s not the new Intimidator in NASCAR.
Oct 22, 2014, 8:18 PM EDT
Perhaps the greatest collection of original Indianapolis 500 pace cars will soon be on display at an upcoming car show in suburban Chicago.
Oct 22, 2014, 7:36 PM EDT
For most Canadians, their homebrewed beer choice is typically Labatts or Molson. But countryman and IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is starting to get some traction with his own beer brand, Hinchtown Hammer Down (HHD).
Oct 22, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman took a spin around Martinsville Speedway in the NBC race simulator to show why the paper-clip shaped track can be extremely difficult.
Oct 22, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT
In a stunning move that could potentially threaten his bid for a record-extending 17th NHRA Funny Car championship, John Force announced Wednesday that veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock has resigned, effective immediately.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT
Crew chiefs, road crews for Nos. 10 and 41 Stewart-Haas Racing cars will swap starting at Texas.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
More murky messaging from Leafield as Caterham’s future hangs in the balance.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
When you drive a car that produces nearly 10,000 horsepower and reaches speeds approaching 330 mph, a hurricane with wind speeds over 100 mph is nothing. That was the case Sunday for NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps.
Video from NASCAR America
- Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday 1
- Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months 5
- WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET for Martinsville outlook 0
- Caterham could miss Austin as crisis deepens at Leafield 2
- NHRA stunner: Jimmy Prock out as John Force’s crew chief 10
- Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick will swap crews at Stewart-Haas (UPDATED) 14
- Statement from Caterham provides unclear future for team’s plans (UPDATED) 3