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.
Oct 19, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
The Captain doesn’t mind some emotion and edge from his veteran driver.
Oct 19, 2014, 8:19 PM EDT
If you’re a hardcore NASCAR fan, even if your favorite driver has been eliminated for the remainder of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, you’re probably asking a very poignant question: Now what?
Oct 19, 2014, 7:43 PM EDT
Newman finished fifth in today’s race at Talladega and entered the Eliminator Round of the Chase with a 27-point cushion over the cutoff.
Oct 19, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
While they’re still missing a checkered flag, Newman and Kenseth are doing what they have to do.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
Hendrick Motorsports began Sunday at Talladega with four teams still in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But its race day ended with three of those four eliminated from advancing to the next round, and veteran Jeff Gordon left as the lone HMS to move on.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:01 PM EDT
Defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Busch were all eliminated from advancing in the Chase Sunday at Talladega.
Oct 19, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT
One week after being part of the post-race controversy in Charlotte, Keselowski gets the victory he needed to keep his season going.
Oct 19, 2014, 5:35 PM EDT
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dream of his first Sprint Cup championship this season ended in a nightmare two laps from the end of Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Oct 19, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT
Busch had been up 26 points over the Chase cutoff going into today’s race.
Oct 19, 2014, 3:55 PM EDT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson – in must-win situations – have been among the top performers in Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Oct 19, 2014, 3:27 PM EDT
Keselowski one of several drivers needing a win today at Talladega.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
When it comes to the NHRA, there’s only one Pomona. And now there’s a new book to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the season-ending NHRA World Finals.
Surprising revelation: Dale Jr. admits he coasted earlier in his career — ‘I just rested on my legacy and last name’
Oct 19, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
In one of the most candid interviews of his career, Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted that he hasn’t always been as determined and focused on success as he is now.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The motorsport world continues to send its support to Bianchi and his family two weeks on from his accident in Japan.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
One day after it was revealed that Richard Petty Motorsports will have to find a new base for its racing operations, the legendary Hall of Famer’s teams are going home in a sense.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Junior: “We’re going to go out there and try to accomplish that goal and give it all we’ve got.”
Oct 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Esteban Ocon champion as the FIA F3 European Championship season comes to an end at Hockenheim in Germany.
Oct 19, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Former F1 driver will consider his options for 2015 over the winter.
Oct 19, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
They named him “Baby Schumi” back in 2008, and the moniker is becoming all the more relevant as he prepares for life with Ferrari in 2015.
Video from NASCAR America
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