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 26, 2015, 8:49 PM EDT
It was Ron Capps’ Day in Baytown, Texas.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:24 PM EDT
Newgarden rolls out the thank you mat after scoring his elusive first IndyCar victory.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Ryan Hunter-Reay not satisfied with first top-five finish of 2015.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:42 PM EDT
Penske pair still 1-2 after tough afternoon in Barber.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
Graham Rahal comes up short in best performance in a year.
Apr 26, 2015, 5:37 PM EDT
Newgarden scores first career win at Barber.
Apr 26, 2015, 4:43 PM EDT
We’re halfway at Barber, with Graham Rahal the leader at Lap 45 and pit stops underway.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Meeke becomes the first British driver to win in the WRC in 13 years.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT
Results from the Indy Lights’ series second race at Barber Motorsports Park
Apr 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Watch the fourth round of the IndyCar season, from Barber Motorsports Park, at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Lotus youngster beats Nyck de Vries in a truncated second race of the Formula Renault 3.5 season.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
What to watch for ahead of Round 4 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Marquez undergoes minor surgery on his left hand, and is in doubt for next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.
Apr 26, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Mick wins the third and final race of the first ADAC F4 weekend of the year at Oschersleben in Germany.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
45 delegates from the FIA had been attending the first Asia-Pacific Sport Regional Congress in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Saturday.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
The Coca-Cola signage isn’t limited to Scott Dixon’s car this weekend.
Apr 25, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT
Second in qualifying a good day at the office for Will Power, as he’s in search of his first win of the year.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:42 PM EDT
Davey Hamilton will have a one-off day back behind the wheel of a current day IndyCar, filling in for Townsend Bell at next week’s IndyCar open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:33 PM EDT
Spencer Pigot dominates Indy Lights flag-to-flag in first race of weekend at Barber.
- NHRA: Capps storms to 2nd win of season, Funny Car points lead 0
- Relief, gratitude define the day where Newgarden finally gets first win 0
- Graham Rahal can’t close deal in runner-up finish at Barber 0
- Josef Newgarden scores his first IndyCar win at Barber (VIDEO) 1
- WATCH LIVE: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Live Extra 0
- What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra) 0
- Michael Schumacher’s son Mick victorious on debut ADAC F4 weekend 1