The Frontstretch: Is Johnson's the Greatest Championship Performance Ever? History Says No by Mike Neff -- Sunday October 18, 2009

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The No. 48 car is on an incredible run over the last four years. They have won the championship three years in a row, and are halfway to doing it for a fourth straight year after a convincing win on Saturday night.

It’s a very impressive run, to be sure, but the question remains: where does it stand in the modern era of NASCAR amongst the other great champs?

The modern era of NASCAR began in 1972, and the first stretch to be examined is the run of Richard Petty from 1973 through 1976. During that four-year stretch, Petty scored 32 victories, 77 tops 5s, and 86 top 10s in 119 races. Even with those numbers, though, he only won two championships, finishing second the other two years.

During that same time period, from 1976 through 1979, Cale Yarborough went on his run of three consecutive championships. Until Johnson did it over the last three years, Yarborough was the only driver to accomplish the feat. Yarborough was remarkably consistent during his three championship seasons, posting 9 wins, 22 top 5s and 23 top 10s in ’76, 9 wins, 25 top 5s, and 27 top 10s in ’77 and 10 wins, 23 top 5s and 24 top 10s in ’78. Add to those numbers his fourth place season in ’79 and his totals for his best four years were 32 victories, 89 top 5s, and 96 top 10s in 121 races.

Jimmie Johnson has celebrated victory 27 times in the last four year s- but does he have the best four-year run in the modern era?

Shortly after Yarborough’s run, Darrell Waltrip came into his own for his big streak. From 1981 through 1984, Waltrip logged 37 victories, 73 top 5s, and 90 top 10s in 121. Even with those totals, however, he was only able to win the championship in ’81 and ’82. He was runner-up to Bobby Allison in 1983 and a distant fifth in 1984. On Waltrip’s heels we find Dale Earnhardt who, while his run was not in four consecutive years, still put up some impressive numbers. In 1987, 1990, 1991, and 1993, Earnhardt won the title and compiled 30 victories, 70 top 5s, and 87 top 10s while competing in 117 races. Earnhardt’s numbers are less impressive than the others in the list because he had very subpar years in ’88, ’89, and ’92, however.

The last driver we can look at for comparison purposes to Johnson is Jeff Gordon. Gordon went on a tear from 1995 through 1998, scoring three championships and a second place points finish. Gordon’s impressive statistics were compiled in 127 races, the most of anyone on the list. He notched 40 victories, 86 top 5s and 98 top 10s during that time span to wind up tops on this list.

That leads us to Jimmie Johnson. From 2006 through the Charlotte Chase race, he’s competed in 139 races. During that timeframe, he’s accumulated 27 victories, 60 top 5s, and 89 top 10s. With five races to go, those numbers are almost certain to go up. Nonetheless, they are certainly on par with the great championship runs of the last 38 years — although they’re close.

Gordon compiled the most victories in a four-year span with 40, ahead of Waltrip who landed 37 victories over his best four years. Yarborough had the most top 5s by far with 89, clearly outdistancing Gordon’s 86 in six fewer races. For top 10s, Gordon is back on top with his 98, two ahead of Yarborough’s 96.

So while Johnson’s numbers are indeed impressive, and many people today are considering him to be so dominant he’s actually making the racing boring, it’s by no means the most dominant championship run in the modern era. In fact, it’s none other than Johnson’s mentor, Jeff Gordon, whose four-year stretch is the class of this field, with the most victories, top 10s, and second-most top 5s.

In reality, Johnson’s run at this point in time is the least dominant of the six champions who have won three titles in the modern era. Mind you, competition is at its highest level ever, and there are more cars finishing on the lead lap then ever before, but Johnson has had more races to compile his statistics and they are still less than the other champions.

Yet knowing Chad Knaus, he’ll probably take this information and come back with an even greater vengeance when he goes for five in a row next year.

Contact Mike Neff

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The Turnip!
10/18/2009 07:19 AM

GREATEST”, or not, one cannot deny the excellence that Chad Knaus brings to the track!




Does it help NA$CRAP?


Does it represent “PARITY”?, as NA$CRAP likes to advertise? NO!

Does the 48 team have the $$$$ to spend to make this all happen!


Does Chad Knaus know how to use this pot of gold? YES!

Like it or not, the 48 is on the move!

10/18/2009 08:54 AM

I’ve been a Hendrick fan and Jeff Gordon fan for 15 years, and even I admit that nobody out there in the NASCAR garage has the equipment or talent to compete with Jimmie and Chad. I’ve also had to deal with the detractors who are quick to point out how many times Chad has been suspended! And that Hendrick is a felon and pays substancial bribe money to Brian France and Mike helton to ensure nobody messes with Jimmie. Rick hendrick is the most honest and upright person in the world! He has integrity and a fantastic business sense! He is God! Those detractors are all Jealous with a capital “J”! I say go Jimmie!! Show them who is the greatest of all!!! And if anyone out there disagrees with me, you know nothing about NASCAR and how it works, and if you are not a Jimmiie Johnson fan, you also have no business watching or attending anything to do with NASCAR!!

10/18/2009 10:21 AM

Hey, Turnip;

Didn’t you used to be Douglas? I can tell by the incessant and inane CAPITALIZATON that you always USE.

Bad Wof
10/18/2009 12:48 PM

Johnsons’ rising win and Championship stats will mean even less people tuning in to watch the races. Watch for Nascar to find some sort of infraction with Johnsons’ car and actually take points away, or he’ll get busted a few times for speeding on pit road or other infractions as listed in the Nascar Rulebook.

Back when Gordon was dominating there were the likes of Earnhardt and Wallace to keep it interesting. Same for the days of Cale and Petty. Now with the COT we don’t see the same thing, and it comes down to money instead of innovation. Hendrick has the deep pockets, and JJ and Chad know how to parlay that into championships.

10/18/2009 02:17 PM

I’m not intending to take anything away from Jimmy,but every since he has been in this series he has always had the same crew chief. That certainly goes a long ways for understanding the cars that he has to setup and understanding his driver and what he likes as a setup.

The Turnip! (AKA Douglas!)
10/18/2009 02:51 PM

Hey Jim, yes, good observation (and I hope the caps don’t bother you, just the normal way of emphasising certain things, not to be confused with the use of caps in a chat room environmant, which this is not)!

Thanks for asking!

Now, to “Mike”!


Your statements as follows: (quote) “Rick hendrick is the most honest and upright person in the world! He has integrity and a fantastic business sense! He is God!”


A “convicted felon”? “The most honest”?

“He has integrity”?

Give me a friggin break!

Repeat after me “Rick Hendrick is a convicted felon”!

BUT! This column I don’t believe had anything to do with Convict Rick, it had everything to do with JJ & Chad Knaus!

And in my most humble opinion (and keep in mind I do not like convict Rick at all), but Chad and JJ have been presented the money and the organization, and they have made the absolute most of it!

And they need to be congratulated for doing their job BETTER than anyone else in recent years!

Now, if you want to talk Hendrick, please ask???


(hey, this is more fun than watching the detroit lions on TV), not by much though!

10/18/2009 03:13 PM

Your stats are incomplete, & your article is premature.
JJ is still adding to his stats.
When he enters the “Past Champions” phase of his career. That will be the time for comparisons.

10/18/2009 06:04 PM

“and many people today are considering him to be so dominant he’s actually making the racing boring, “

Yep. And it was nice of nascar to put california in the chase for the california boy who does so good on cookie cutter tracks.

Boy this has really made nascar more exciting huh? This may be the only sport whose “playoff” is boring compared to the “regular” part of the season.

Mike Neff
10/18/2009 06:31 PM

Hey John, the premise of this article was “is the last four years the greatest run in the history of the sport?” I know that Johnson is adding to his stats and he may yet have one or two of those seasons like Gordon did and probably break the single season win record with 14 or more wins. However, at this point in time, the run he’s on is not really even close to the great runs of the other champions in the modern era of the sport.

10/19/2009 12:43 AM

Who was jj before he hooked up with chad. Nobody! Chad is probably the best crew chief of all time, jj the best driver,not so much.

alan moody
10/19/2009 02:54 AM

Well where was anybody before their rookie year and that makes it even more impressive…jj the only rookie ever to lead the points in his rookie year….what would you like jimmie to do to make him considered to be a great driver change his name to dale would that help

Michael in SoCal
10/19/2009 11:30 AM

I know a lot of people are finding Jimmie Johnson’s dominance boring and detrimental to Nascar. Conversely, I’m finding the skill that JJ and Chad Knaus have week in and week out to be utterly amazing to watch. 4 consecutive championships is an amazing accomplishment, and I think JJ is well on the way to accomplishing that.

10/19/2009 11:56 AM

Hey alan, take chad away from jj and give him lance mcgraw from the 88 car and see how great a driver he is. He’s just an lucky, overated driver, who happens to be driving for the best crew chief in history.

10/19/2009 05:00 PM

Well considering that nobody gives him any credit how can he be overrated now i think one day you might realize that to be a champion in a sport that has never seen four in a row it requires a little more than luck and a little more than just a crew chief. Jimmie is the best all around driver in the series thats why he wins.. he lets chad do what he needs to do and then he does what he needs to do…win…. about 16% percent of the time at that…..


Contact Mike Neff

Recent articles from Mike Neff:

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Want to find out more about Mike Neff? Maybe see all the articles he's written here at the Frontstetch? Check out his article archive and bio page then!