WARNING: This article may cause serious illness to Jimmie Johnson haters. Side effects may include, but are not limited to: blood shooting out of one’s eye, vicious hives throughout the body, projectile vomiting, or super-human enragement leading to severely damaged electronic devices and other valuable property.
You have been warned.
Jimmie Johnson didn’t win at Phoenix. He led just one lap, despite the fact that he started from the pole, but was not the one sitting in Victory Lane.
He did, however, finish third. He finished third after two extremely close calls on the track that would have sent a lesser driver straight into the Phoenix International Raceway garage. They had to fight from outside of the top 20 and at times it must have felt like the whole field was fighting to try and keep them out of the title hunt.
Johnson would prevail and finish in the top three, of course. More importantly, his closest competitor Matt Kenseth would finish 23rd, leaving a 28 gap between the two when the race was over. That’s quite a contrast from the seven-point gap that separated Kenseth and Johnson when the race began, a deficit that was next to nothing at all. The way all of us were talking, it would stay that close all the way to Homestead.
Now, it doesn’t appear that way. Though both Kenseth and eventual race winner Kevin Harvick are eligible for the championship this weekend, the odds are completely against both of them. All Johnson has to finish is 23rd or better and he will seal the deal even if either Kenseth or Harvick goes out and leads every single lap. Considering that Johnson’s average finish there is 10.7, I would argue that the odds of that happening are pretty slim
Which opens up a possibility that will drive Johnson’s most avid anti-fans up the wall, especially the traditionalists who still yearn for the NASCAR of yesteryear.
Johnson will, barring some sort of ridiculously stupid event that won’t happen anyway, win the championship this Sunday. You can bet a good amount of money on that and come out ahead. The championship that he will most certainly earn this Sunday will reach a mark that no current driver has: a sixth title.
As impressive as that is, it is the next mark that is absolutely unthinkable considering that no one seemed to believe it would ever be done again. A sixth championship will put Johnson just one more title away from tying Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s and Richard Petty’s records of seven championships. Though Johnson has already done something that neither one of them could ever do, winning five championships in a row when neither of them ever won more than two in a row, he has always aspired to reach their level.
Actually, he has aspired even higher, if we are being honest.
Johnson has said several times in the past that he wants to win eight championships in order to eclipse the total of the greatest drivers ever.
And who is to say he won’t do it? He has already won five and has shown little signs of slowing down. After an “off year” in 2011 (if you can even call finishing sixth an off year), Johnson was back in contention for a championship in 2012. He might have won it if not for a blown right front in Phoenix and an engine issue in Homestead.
Now, he’s going to have six championships while he’s still in the prime of his driving career. Is it at all inconceivable that he could go on another tear winning two or three more before he finally ends his reign?
And what does that mean for the sport? Every decade of NASCAR has seen its dominant driver and every era has had its heroes. Johnson is this era’s and 10 to 20 years from now, those of us who saw it will be talking about it to the newer fans who come in while someone else is tearing up the NASCAR tracks each week.
Personally, I don’t think Johnson’s dominance will be harmful in the long run. I don’t think it is good for the time being because, for whatever reason, fans are hostile to anyone who is dominant. It’s not because of the Chase either. If Johnson had won five in a row under the old system, they would have complained just as much about it. Plus, who wants to be able to predict the ending to every season with unflinching accuracy? It’s like watching chick flicks. You get sick of seeing the guy get the girl in a tearful musical number at the end of every movie. I get that.
However, Johnson’s accomplishments are nothing short of exemplary and reflect a talent and accomplishment that will remain unmatched for a long time to come. Will some young gun come into the sport in the future and potentially eclipse whatever mark Johnson eventually sets? Sure. But for now, Johnson is dead set on and very likely to beat the drivers that are heroes to countless others. At this point, it is darn near inevitable.
You don’t have to cheer for him. You don’t have to like him and you don’t have to like the circumstances. But he might just prove to be this era’s Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
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