Jimmie Johnson May Be The Best NASCAR Driver In History

Johnson took his 5th win at Texas this past weekend. He may just be warming up.

Johnson took his 5th win at Texas this past weekend. He may just be warming up.

Jimmie Johnson is best NASCAR Sprint Cup driver of the modern era. He may be the best stock car racer that NASCAR has ever seen. That’s a strong statement, I know.

Johnson took everyone to school at Texas this past weekend on how a team is supposed to operate as a unit. Not a cowboy driver, not a great crew chief, not a great team alone can make this level of success happen. It’s all of these components that have to operate in complete harmony to create a team this consistently powerful. Much like that of a modern Formula One powerplant. It’s very complex.

Jimmie Johnson, with the exception of a few hiccups in strategy, driver errors and intermural conflict is the Michael Schumacher of NASCAR. Hands down. Love him or hate him you have to acknowledge that in the modern era he really has no equal.

It was obvious that Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Keselowski and others pressed hard and developed their cars over the course of the Texas race, but when crunch time came it was Johnson who closed the deal.

In the past decade Harvick hasn’t done it, Stewart hasn’t done it and neither has Earnhardt Jr. Though Junior in 2015 is giving a more than a journeyman accounting of himself.

Harvick looked as if he would rule the night, but Johnson closed the deal.

Harvick looked as if he would rule the night, but Johnson closed the deal.

Johnson is almost always calm and even when he and Knaus fight, it’s more like a strong discussion in Starbucks than an out and out verbal brawl.

I’ve always thought of him as a ‘Vanilla’ driver. Not too flashy, very smooth and doesn’t really look that fast. That’s the mark of a champion and the attitude of an above average intelligence driver.

Michael Schumacher did for Ferrari exactly what Johnson and Knaus have done for Chevrolet and for Hendrick, delivered Championships. You cannot argue with success. You can’t.

Watching Johnson seemingly struggle at times in the Texas night race you would be lulled into thinking that perhaps this dynasty was in jeopardy, but you would be wrong. We have to accept the inevitable and that is his team, with the same resources as the rest of the Hendrick organization, which really include Stewart Haas, is just a notch above the rest.

Remember, you never have to drive faster than it takes to win and you never have to lead anything but the last lap.

Will Johnson perform as well in the playoff system this year as Harvick in 2014? We’ll see when the time comes. Granted the new system has created media buzz and better racing, everyone want’s to get into the Chase. The question is what does the dog do after it catches the car?

My sense is that luck will play a part in the final chase knock outs as it did in 2014, but in the world of auto racing you set yourself up to take full advantage of that luck when the wheel spins in your favor. Johnson’s team has that ability and we’ll all just have to see if it plays out for him.

Harvick is delivering a great showing of himself s a driver, but has come nowhere close Johnson’s accomplishments in the last 10 years. He is certainly showing that he can drive, close deals for wins and has managed to operate in that window where all of the components that comprise a championship team are present.

However, he is not at at the 48 car’s level just yet. He may very well defend his title and take another championship in 2015, but then again he may not. If he does, it will be his second Sprint Cup Championship in 14 years.

If Johnson can convert the 48 car’s attributes to a championship in 2015 it will be his 7th in 15 years.

You can’t argue with those facts.

 

At Texas, Johnson Returned To Familiar Form

Jimmie Johnson won at Texas to earn his first victory in the Chase, his third straight in a Texas fall race and the 70th of his career.

Jimmie Johnson won at Texas to earn his first victory in the Chase, his third straight in a Texas fall race and the 70th of his career.

Given that there was a great deal of attention paid to the Jeff Gordon-Brad Keselowski fracas after the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, some folks might have overlooked the fact that Jimmie Johnson won the race.

Let’s face it, Gordon and Keselowski got a lot more ink than Johnson.

But it should be noted that Johnson’s victory was significant for a few reasons: It was his third consecutive win in the fall Texas race. It was his first in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and it was the 70th of his career.

He’s eighth on NACAR’s all-time list.

As mentioned, Johnson won in the Chase for the first time, as hard as that might be to believe. Truth is he was mediocre in NASCAR’s “playoff,” and that’s the reason he was eliminated from championship contention after the second round.

Before Texas, Johnson’s best Chase finish was third at Dover, the second of the three opening races.

At Kansas, the opening race of the second round, Johnson finished 40th after being involved in a multicar accident.

He was 12th in points and on the bubble. He almost had to win to advance.

He didn’t come close. He was 17th at Charlotte – where he normally runs very strong – and 24th at Talladega, after which he stood 10th in points and out of contention.

Johnson’s struggles led to speculation that he was at odds with long-time crew chief Chad Knaus, acknowledged as one of the best in the business.

To some, tense radio transmissions between the two at Charlotte offered evidence things were not going smoothly.

Once out of championship contention, the only thing left for Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team to do was to perhaps prepare for 2015 – and to definitely win as many races as possible.

Victory seemed as distant as ever after Johnson finished 32nd at Martinsville, but it was at Texas that everything was set right.

Johnson returned to dominating form at Texas. He led 191 of 341 laps en route to his fourth victory of the season.

Johnson returned to dominating form at Texas. He led 191 of 341 laps en route to his fourth victory of the season.

Johnson looked like the six-time champion he is. He led 191 of 341 laps, the most he’s led since his victory at Dover in June.

He survived two green-white-checkered restarts, pulling away from Keselowski and runnerup Kevin Harvick on the last one.

Now, for Johnson, this was more like it.“We wanted to close out the year by having fun, and winning races helps you do that,” Johnson said. “But I have to give a lot of credit to our test session in Homestead earlier this week. 

We went down there and Chad and the guys started making me happy.  I guess I’ve been unhappy for a while. 

“These guys put some great speed in the race car, got me really comfortable with the car. 

We were able to bring a lot of that here and get the car off the truck right away, it was quick, qualified third, and then dominated and won the race.”

Johnson acknowledged he would like to be in the hunt for the championship.

But he said that to be able to run as well as he did at Texas takes away some of the sting.He also emphasized that his relationship with Knaus is as it always was.“It’s tough when you’re going through watching, you know, a championship opportunity slip away from you,” Johnson said. “People ask me questions about us raising hell with one another on the radio.  But that’s part of the process.  “That’s one thing that has been good about us. 

We’ve always been able to be honest with one another and say tough things. 

“Sure, you might not want to hear it, it might sting a little bit.  But it’s what has kept us together for all these years and provided the 70 wins and six championships.”

Knaus said that not winning created a lack of confidence for him and Johnson, a situation that has been removed with victory.

“It was difficult,” he said. “My confidence was definitely low.  I know Jimmie’s was definitely low. 

“You know, look, winning cures a lot of things, but the proof is in how we react beyond this point, how we go to Phoenix, how we produce there, how we go to Homestead, how we race there.  “Those will be the true tales of where we’re at.”

 

 

 

 

 

Johnson Holds Big Hand Heading Toward Season Finale

Kevin Harvick won his fourth race of the season and his fourth at Phoenix in the AdvoCare 500 and remains in third place in the point standings.

Last week I said that although Jimmie Johnson was a winner at Texas, it wasn’t time to cue the Fat Lady.

I think that can be done now. She needs to be in voice, because it is very likely she’s going to sing at Homestead this weekend.

Of course, I could be wrong.

After Phoenix Johnson is 28 points ahead of Matt Kenseth in the point standings and needs to finish only 23rd or better at Homestead to clinch the title.

I don’t think he’ll have trouble doing that. But then, I could be wrong.

Last year at Homestead Johnson suffered gear problems and finished a dismal 36th. He fell to third place in the standings, 40 points behind champion Brad Keselowski and one behind runnerup Clint Bowyer.

Just a week earlier Johnson came to Phoenix with a seven-point advantage – same as this year.

At Phoenix this season, Johnson avoided near disaster on the first lap, where a jostle with Joey Logano dropped him from the pole to sixth place. It could have been far worse.

Johnson rebounded nicely, ran among the leaders all day and finished third. His performance was a polar opposite from 2012, when a blown tire sent him to a 32nd-place finish and marked the beginning of the end.

“We had a very strong race car, so that made life a lot easier, especially comparing this effort to last year’s effort in the Chase,” Johnson said. “You know, we did what we should have.

“We’re heading into Homestead in the position we want to be in.  I’ll have to go down there and run 400 miles.  It’s far from over.

Matt Kenseth had his worst day in the Chase as an ill-handling car sent him to 23rd place, one lap down. He’s now 28 points behind Jimmie Johnson in the standings.

“You’ve got to finish that race. Although we have a nice cushion, we still have to go down there and take care of business.”

That should not be a daunting task.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Johnson likely would not have that cushion of which he speaks had challenger Matt Kenseth not endured his worst race of the Chase.

Kenseth’s Toyota was never right over the course of 312 miles at Phoenix. No matter how much or how hard his Jason Ratcliff-led team tried to make corrections, nothing worked.

As a result, Kenseth finished one lap down in 23rd place, his poorest showing in the Chase.

“We just really struggled,” Kenseth said. “Honestly, it was the first day like that – that we’ve had all season long. Gosh, that speaks volumes about my team, we haven’t had a day like that all year where we’ve been far enough back where we couldn’t stay on the lead lap.

“But I Just couldn’t be prouder to drive this car for Joe Gibbs Racing. “It was an unfortunate, disappointing day, but man, we did the best we could do. We just were off today.”

While Kenseth, who has won seven times this year, has not conceded the title to Johnson he knows the task ahead is formidable.

“I’m disappointed over today, obviously, with the way our season has gone and kind of being in the championship hunt,” he said. “Now you hope to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance.

“Yet on the other hand, I’m extremely happy.  I’m really, really happy with my team.”

Kevin Harvick emerged victorious at Phoenix to win for the fourth time at the one-mile track. It was his 23rd career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.

It embellished what has been an outstanding final season with Richard Childress Racing. As a lame duck Harvick has won four times this year and stands third in points.

He’s 34 points behind Johnson and his chances of winning the championship are mathematical at best.

“I think Richard would probably sit here and tell you that we’ve been good for each other because we challenge each other,” Harvick said. “You know, I obviously handle a lot of situations wrong, but it pushes a lot of buttons to try to make things better.

“There’s no better way to go out than to do what we’ve done this year.”

For Johnson there will be no better way to conclude the 2013 season than to earn a sixth title in the last eight years.

Me? I think he’s going to do it.

Of course, I could be wrong.

 

 

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