OK, so I was half-right before the season began. I said there would be a “drive for five” — I just picked the wrong guy. There never will be any convincing some detractors, but with what he accomplished in 2010, Jimmie Johnson added more proof that he is the greatest driver of our era, worthy of the moniker bestowed upon him him by Mark Martin, a driver who’s raced a few greats and should know. Yes, Jimmie Johnson is, indeed, Superman.
With five NASCAR Cup titles, Johnson trails only a couple of dudes named Petty and Earnhardt. You can spare me your arguments about winning under the Chase system, because Johnson has proved he can win, no matter the system or circumstances. Yes, even if we had the so-called classic points system, the 48 team would have found a way to win.
This season, Johnson added a couple more jewels to his crown with wins at Bristol and Sonoma. With those victories, he further shoots down the notion that his dominance is the result of mastery of the down-force tracks.
In this observer’s opinion, Johnson won his 2010 title with a perfect balance of winning and consistency. Yes, Kevin Harvick was arguably more consistent, but he didn’t have near the wins of the champion. Denny Hamlin had more wins than Johnson, but there’s no question the 48 team was more consistent.
Even if you throw out the championships, respect the man for the wins. Season after season, Johnson keeps racking them up; this year he passed such luminaries as Herb Thomas, Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. With 53 wins, he’s in 10th place for all-time victories, and will soon surpass legends such as Lee Petty and Rusty Wallace.
Johnson won this championship with the stiffest competition he’s ever received. Props to Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin for taking it down to the wire. The difference-maker in this Chase: Jimmie never blinked.
I’ve played the sports, coached the sports and covered the sports in some way, shape or form for over 30 years. What I’ve observed is that some just have it: Derek Jeter, Joe Montana and Michael Jordan. They have that ability to make the right decision every time with the game on the line. Johnson has it too.
One more thought before wrapping it up, something that is often underappreciated. Johnson wins with class. Do you catch how he works with his crew when things aren’t going well? Do you see his on-track demeanor? The man’s not perfect, but he gets who he is, and he doesn’t throw his people under the bus.
Fear not, critics, like all reigns, this will soon someday end. It did for the 49ers, the Chicago Bulls and even the late, great Dale Earnhardt slowed considerably as his career was winding down before that fateful February day in 2001. It could even end as early as next year, considering how close the challengers came this year. I don’t see Hamlin or Harvick going away; not to mention Carl Edwards, the up-and-coming Joey Logano, and some of the other usual suspects.
But for now, a call out to Johnson, five-time champion. With each passing season, he adds to his legend, and one can’t help but think there is more in store from the victor and his 48 team.