Jimmie Johnson ends 2013 Chase with sixth Sprint Cup title
By Rick Minter
Even before he secured his sixth Sprint Cup championship with a ninth-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was considered one of the greatest NASCAR drivers ever.
The questions for many now become how long he and Chad Knaus, his crew chief since the start of his Cup career, can keep on dominating the series and where they will end up on the all-time winners lists in NASCAR.
Denny Hamlin, who won the season finale to extend his own record to eight consecutive seasons with at least one win, is among those who have challenged Johnson for a title but come up short. In 2010, Hamlin led the series in victories with eight and took a 15-point lead over Johnson in the season finale only to lose the championship to him.
Hamlin said Sunday that Johnson’s team stands apart from the rest because it usually doesn’t make errors when the pressure is on.
“They just don’t make any mistakes,” he said. “They don’t have 20th or worse finishes that it seems like every one team has throughout the Chase, whether it be a superspeedway or whatever. You have to beat him on performance. To do that, that’s really hard.”
He said that Johnson, who has 66 career Cup wins, is the best NASCAR driver of all time.
“Unfortunately, we’re racing during the Jimmie Johnson era,” Hamlin said. “We’re just unlucky in that sense. I think being out there and racing with him, I can say that I think he’s the best that there ever was. He’s racing against competition that is tougher than this sport’s ever seen.”
Hamlin’s teammate Matt Kenseth, who finished second to Hamlin at Homestead and second to Johnson in the championship standings, agreed that Johnson’s success is unparalleled.
“Jimmie and that team are obviously unbelievable,” Kenseth said. “Never seen anything like this in the sport and probably will never see anything like it again. It’s amazing with as tight as the rules are, multi-car teams, information sharing, and all that stuff. It’s amazing they can figure out how to do that year after year.”
Johnson’s championship puts him within one of the sport’s all-time record of seven, which is shared by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Petty said that making comparisons between his and Earnhardt’s and Johnson’s records is meaningless because they were set in different eras, under different circumstances.
“Earnhardt did his thing in his time against his competition,” Petty said. “I did mine against my competition and [Johnson’s] doing his thing against his competition.
“We didn’t compete with each other. In other words, he wasn’t there to race against Richard Petty or Earnhardt, and we didn’t have to race against Jimmie Johnson, either. You can’t compare. It’s not apples and apples. It’s apples and oranges.”
Petty did say that he and Johnson do share one major factor in that they both have done the bulk of their winning with the same crew chief — Johnson with Chad Knaus and Petty with his cousin Dale Inman.
“It’s everything,” Petty said of the chemistry between driver and crew chief. “It’s just like me and Dale Inman. It was like a one-operation show with two people, so you’ve got to have that. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s football or baseball or whatever.”
Petty also said that Johnson and Knaus likely would keep on winning for some time to come.
“He’s liable to go to eight to 10 [championships],” he said.
In his champion’s interview, Johnson seemed comfortable with his greatness, as described by those around him.
“I’m humbled by the nice things that have been said by competitors and owners, my peers in this industry,” he said.
“I think their opinion is very important. I don’t think my opinion matters. It’s not for the athlete, the driver. It’s bestowed upon you, it’s passed down from others.”