Former Greats Pick The Current Greatest
By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
Want to get Junior Johnson’s motor running? Ask him about Kyle Busch.
Johnson, who recently was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, sees a little of himself in Busch and it’s why he would pick the talented wheelman, and not Jimmie Johnson, if he were starting a Sprint Cup team today.
“I like Kyle’s style of driving because he likes to go to the front and that’s the way I drove,” said Johnson, who has 50 career wins and also was team owner when Cale Yarborough won a record three-straight driving championships, a mark Jimmie Johnson is about to break should he hold off Mark Martin in Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “It’s a tough way to race. You lose a lot of races by being aggressive in that manner. But that’s the only way I knew how to race.
“If you don’t go and give it everything you got, I just don’t like that kind of racing. When you take it easy, which is what I call stroking, I don’t think that’s racing. I never could do that, and if I was back racing today, I still wouldn’t do it.
“Kyle doesn’t do that. He’s not that kind of driver. He’s the kind that goes to the front until he wins or loses.”
Former driver Dale Jarrett, a three-time Daytona 500 champion who like Junior Johnson was picked one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, doesn’t deny Busch’s immense talents.
But if Jarrett was starting a team, he’d bypass Busch and go directly to Jimmie Johnson.
“I know Kyle Busch has a tremendous amount of talent, but I think Jimmie brings everything,” said Jarrett, NASCAR’s 1999 driving champion. “He (Johnson) has the mentality to get it done. He’s focused on what he’s doing and understands about racing for not only wins, but racing for the big picture. And winning championships, too.
“That’s a hard combination to put together. You have others that have a tremendous amount of talent, but they really haven’t won championships. I think Jimmie is the complete package.”
Off the track, Busch also doesn’t have what it would take for former driver Rusty Wallace to nab him as his driver if he were starting a Cup team and could have his pick of drivers.
“I wish he (Busch) could be a nice guy all the time instead of being upset and mad at everybody,” said Wallace, who with 55 career wins is No. 8 on the all-time list. “All that stuff bothers me. And if he was standing right here, I’d tell him.
“He’ll mature out of it. I went through a lot of that when I was young. So will he. If he could just figure out how not to be upset and mad at everybody, then I’d say I’d pick him.”
But since Busch sometimes behaves as if should be wearing Onesies instead of a racing suit, Wallace’s pick would be Johnson.
“But you have to say my second choice would be Denny Hamlin, which might surprise some people,” said Wallace, who like Jarrett now is an ESPN/ABC analyst. “Denny cut his teeth on short tracks and he knows how to work on cars. Everybody knows that I personally appreciative a driver that understands his car. He’s also winning races and running up front. He’s young and appreciative of everything.
“But I would pick Johnson because he’s so good with the media and so good at driving the car, something he’s proven with four championships.
“He’s such a finesse driver. He knows how to charge and not when to charge. He hardly ever wrecks a car, and when he gets out of the car, he’s a hell of a good human being. He’s good to people and never talks down to somebody.”
Junior Johnson agrees the younger Johnson is as good as advertised, but behavior woes or not, he still prefers Busch.
“Jimmie has what it takes to win, but if he didn’t have (crew chief) Chad Knaus, I don’t think he’d be in that kind of position,” Junior Johnson said. “Look what happened when Jeff (Gordon) and (former crew chief) Ray Evernham separated. That combination was tough to beat. I raced against them for a year or two when I had Bill Elliott as my driver and you knew that combination was going to be good until something happened to it. And that’s exactly what happened.
“Whenever Chad and Jimmie leave each other, they’ll find it tougher to find another combination like what they have right now.”
Wallace doesn’t buy it.
“Chad has his car handling every week, but Jimmie has already proved that he knows how to drive the car,” Wallace said. “Man, he can drive that thing.”
– Mark Armijo is the former auto-racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.comOne Comment