Jimmie Johnson has now won an unprecedented five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and, in so doing, has clearly indicated he and his Hendrick Motorsports team have risen above all others.
The argument can be made that Johnson and the Hendrick team did that a couple of years ago when they won a third straight title, and then emphasized it with their fourth last year.
But, now, no one should question that the No. 48 bunch is the most elite and successful in NASCAR – clearly head and shoulders above the rest.
Dynasties are nothing new in professional sports. Over the decades there have been teams and organizations that have experienced routine, continuous success and have established benchmarks others could equal.
There were the New York Yankees of the 1950s, the Boston Celtics and the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, the UCLA Bruins of the ‘60s and 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70s and even Michael Schumacher’s string of seven straight F1 championships in later years.
There are several other examples, but I trust you get the idea.
NASCAR has also had its dynasties, such as Petty Enterprises through the ‘60s and ‘70s, Junior Johnson and Associates in the ‘70s (with which Cale Yarborough won three consecutive titles) and, arguably, Richard Childress Racing and driver Dale Earnhardt through the 1980s and part of the 1990s – and even Jeff Gordon and Hendrick through the latter ‘90s.
But what separates these drivers and teams from Johnson and Hendrick is that none of them, or any other, has matched their singular achievement of five titles in a row.
In any sport a dynasty is created by success that is based upon several things. Among them are the quality of the team or organization’s upper level leadership, the resources – financial or otherwise – that it has and uses wisely, the talent of its field managers, employees and players and its ability to adapt to any and all changes.
If any one of these qualities is lacking, the chances are strong that an organization might be successful from time to time but will never establish itself as a dynasty.
For example, the Yankees spend more money for talent than any other Major League Baseball team. They haven’t come close to becoming the dynasty they were in years past.
Presently Hendrick Motorsports has all these qualities. Its resources, leadership and talent have made it a powerhouse organization for years now, with 10 championships to prove it – five for Johnson, four for Gordon and one for Terry Labonte.
The No. 48 team blends these qualities into itself. It feeds from Hendrick management and resources and adds its own talent. Chad Knaus, for all his past shenanigans, is an excellent crew chief whose chemistry with Johnson is undeniable.
There should no longer be an argument that Johnson has evolved into one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers.
Their support from shop personnel and pit crewmen has been excellent.
OK, so the crew was swapped out for Gordon’s during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. That’s a good example of the No. 48 team making a change when its leadership – Knaus – thought it was warranted. The team used the resources available to it.
The problem with dynasties is that most sports fans don’t like them.
Their opinion is that a team that wins so often can make any sport boring. Folks want to see it knocked off the pedestal to be replaced by another, and, in so doing, make things more interesting and refreshing.
Believe me, the dynasties of the Yankees, Celtics, UCLA, Packers and Steelers were not universally loved.
So it is that Johnson isn’t either. In fact, the bet here is that a majority of fans would have preferred to see either Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick knock him off the roost.
But they didn’t. So, Johnson’s place in NASCAR history is not only established, it stands alone.
There is one other thing about sports dynasties.
They do not last forever. They come to an end. Sooner or later, the mighty will fall.
And so will Johnson and the No. 48 team.
The only question now is – when?