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.
Sep 2, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The Fontana race replay and championship celebration air tonight on NBCSN from 8 p.m. ET through 11:30 p.m. ET.
Sep 2, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman have their ideas on who can beat out NASCAR’s two strongest teams for a championship.
Sep 2, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
The newest Chase-bound driver chats with NBCSN’s Marty Snider about his win on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Sep 2, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
400 miles. 2 Chase Grid spots. It all comes down to Saturday night.
Sep 2, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: Beating the Hendrick/Penske bloc; Atlanta edition of “Scan All 43″; Kyle Busch’s continued struggles; the career of crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
Sep 2, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Daly confirms the tough news on his Twitter page, citing a “lack of funding” as the cause for his dropping.
Sep 2, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Ron Hornaday Jr. is out of a ride and 18 employees are out of a job.
Sep 2, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
Alonso to Britain’s Sky Sports: “I want to win here and finish the job that we started some years ago, and we will see what the future [holds]“
Sep 2, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Mazda Road to Indy regulars Scott Hargrove and Daniel Burkett secure titles in Porsche GT3 Canada and Atlantic, respectively.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Pierre Gasly, a Red Bull Junior, will join Caterham’s GP2 team for the rest of 2014.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Ryan Newman is the only Chase hopeful that controls his destiny going into Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Mikhail Aleshin updates his social media pages for first time since scary Fontana accident on Friday night.
Sep 2, 2014, 12:17 PM EDT
What was Haas Formula is now Haas F1 Team as part of a new brand rollout.
Sep 2, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
United Fiber & Data looks set to return to IndyCar for 2015 and the foreseeable future.
Sep 2, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Team Penske president Tim Cindric all but confirms Will Power will run the No. 1 in 2015.
Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
MAVTV announces IndyCar’s return to Fontana for two more years through 2016, although official confirmation from the sanctioning body and a date remains to be revealed.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Kahne to NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan: “We need to build off of this…As a team, we need to be stronger together.”
Sep 1, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’S Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman believe that the three-time Sprint Cup champion handled himself well throughout a difficult weekend.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Organizers of the Russian Grand Prix appear to be getting behind their countryman as F1’s first visit to Sochi draws closer.
Sep 1, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Richie Crampton, Alexis DeJoria, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec captured U.S. Nationals wins on Monday.
Video from NASCAR America
- Gene Haas’ F1 team changes team name, launches new pages 3
- Cindric proposes IndyCar champion Will Power will run No. 1 in 2015 2
- NASCAR AMERICA: Assessing Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta (VIDEO) 1
- Feelin’ free: Frustrations end for Chase-bound Kahne, IndyCar champ Power 3
- Honda preps for first simulations, expresses confidence it can match Mercedes 5
- Kenseth clinches Chase berth; Bowyer falls out of Grid with one race to go 1
- Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase 1