Nov 18, 2013, 1:03 AM EST
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.
Mar 6, 2014, 9:45 PM EST
Phoenix winner only driver north of 190mph in Las Vegas test.
Mar 6, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
BHA rookie admits slight surprise in taking the reins of team’s No. 98 entry.
Mar 6, 2014, 6:45 PM EST
Series seeks marketing/promotional growth to match solid on-track product.
Mar 6, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler to continue in AIM-run Ferrari in TUDOR Championship.
Mar 6, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Regulations change plus a solid preseason leaves Sir Frank bullish on Williams’ 2014 outlook.
Mar 6, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
NASCAR’s open test takes place this afternoon and into the early evening at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Kobalt 400, the third round of the already-flying 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Mar 6, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Actor Jonathan Goldsmith to give “the Most Interesting Command in the World.”
Driver, team owner and now actor: Tony Stewart’s first edition of ‘Smoke is The Bandit’ is released (video)
Mar 6, 2014, 3:03 PM EST
After teasing us a few days ago with a brief video of what was to come, the first episode of Smokey Is The Bandit, featuring NASCAR star Tony Stewart, is out.
Mar 6, 2014, 2:19 PM EST
Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is already having a dream season – and she’s only two races into the 24-race 2014 NHRA schedule.
Mar 6, 2014, 1:38 PM EST
Although this is no laughing matter, one of comedian Larry the Cable Guy’s signature lines — “That ain’t right” – is quite appropriate in this instance. According to MotorAuthority.com, Chrysler officials have recalled 93 Dodge Vipers that were donated to schools and colleges around the U.S. for educational purposes. But the cars aren’t being recalled…
Mar 6, 2014, 12:31 PM EST
NHRA star Antron Brown is watching the career of budding NASCAR star Darrell “Bubba” Wallace quite closely.
Mar 6, 2014, 12:26 PM EST
For the first time in more than 30 years, the name “Bernstein” will not be on the qualifying grid for next week’s NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Mar 6, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
Pop quiz: Who has been the most consistent driver in Sprint Cup over nearly the last dozen races, dating back to the latter part of last season?
Mar 6, 2014, 10:35 AM EST
It’s been a question for the ages: which is faster, the Snake or the Mongoo$e? It’s a question that was arguably one of the most-asked during the late 1960s and 1970s when Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoo$e” (yes, there was a $ instead of an “s”) McEwen engaged in one of the…
Mar 6, 2014, 9:45 AM EST
Rider learns from Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden before sampling HPD simulator.
Mar 6, 2014, 9:24 AM EST
Iconic lines, livery return to F1 aboard the FW36-Mercedes.
Mar 5, 2014, 7:00 PM EST
Simon Pagenaud, Mikhail Aleshin lap the Homestead-Miami road course on Tuesday.
Mar 5, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Potential new family addition for Menard could see Crafton make his Sprint Cup debut.
Mar 5, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Fresh livery for the 88 at Las Vegas.
Mar 5, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
It’s the day before an open test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of the third round of the already-flying 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Today, on NASCAR AMERICA (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online on NBC Sports Live Extra), there will be more of a preview of the 400-mile race that sees…
- Driver, team owner and now actor: Tony Stewart’s first edition of ‘Smoke is The Bandit’ is released (video) 0
- Chrysler orders nearly 100 pristine Dodge Vipers destroyed 5
- Williams launches new livery, confirms Martini partnership 3
- F1 on NBC Sports TV, streaming schedule for 2014 Australian Grand Prix 4
- Report: F1 apparently headed for Azerbaijan in 2015 or 2016 5
- Instead of significant improvement, 2014 starting off the way 2013 ended for Danica Patrick (10)
- Kurt Busch gives IndyCar chance to show they’ve learned lesson on promotion (10)
- Alonso discovers an F1 take on Ellen’s Oscar “Selfie” (6)
- UPDATED: FIA decision on Haas, new F1 teams delayed (5)
- BHA announces The Collection Auto Group and Castrol as sponsors; driver TBD (5)