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Harris: How About A Little Love For The Man?

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 27 2010

Jimmie Johnson is the best driver of his generation. So, where's the credit? (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

I wonder what it’s going to take for people to really appreciate what they are seeing right now in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series.

When Babe Ruth was the scourge of the American League, people named candy bars after him. When Barry Sanders was running the ball in the NFL, people actually became Detroit Lions fans. When Michael Jordan was sticking out his tongue, sinking jumpers and winning titles for the Chicago Bulls people who never watched pro basketball tuned in to see his artistry.

Now we’re in the Jimmie Johnson era in Cup and … ho hum.

As RacinToday.com managing editor Jim Pedley so aptly pointed out, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team have gotten into the heads of their competitors.

But not even an unprecedented four consecutive championships, 50 wins in just over nine seasons of competition in NASCAR’s elite series and even becoming the first racer ever to be Associated Press Athlete of the Year in 2009 are apparently enough to excite the general populace.

How do you get so good that everybody just expects you to win and finds nothing special to talk about when you do?

When Tiger Woods – pre scandal – knocked in another impossible 30-foot putt to win a tournament, the prevailing attitude was “Wow! He’s just amazing.’’

When Jimmie Johnson ducked past Tony Stewart Sunday to finally win a race at Bristol, the general attitude seemed to be, “Doesn’t anybody else every win in NASCAR?’’

This guy is good. He’s beyond good. He’s in a class of his own right now.

But, somehow, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

Yes, he has the best equipment and the best resources, but so do his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, and none of them are winning regularly. Knaus is a brilliant mastermind on the pit box, but it’s Johnson who has to sit behind the wheel and tell the crew chief what the car needs each week.

Team owner Rick Hendrick is another one who wonders what it’s going to take for people to realize just how good Johnson is.

“If you look at the stats and you look at the talent and you look at the dedication, just look at his record, I mean, I don’t understand why it’s not written now (that) he’s one of the best that’s ever done this,’’ Hendrick said after the Bristol race. “I’ve been around for a long time, I’ve watched a lot of guys from Richard Petty on up to current day.  When you look at the level of competition since he’s been in the sport, what he’s done, what he’s accomplished, I mean, I don’t know what he’s got to do, you know. ‘’

Of course, any time there’s a dynasty in sports, there is an outcry to break it up because a lot of folks hate to see anyone dominate for too long.

After Johnson tied Cale Yarborough with his third straight title in 2008, somebody came up with the idea – and not totally tongue-in-check – that teams should swap drivers and/or crew chiefs every year to even out the field.

Since that’s not going to happen any time soon, I think we should all take a closer look at what JJ is accomplishing out there on the racetrack and appreciate it for what it is – exceptional.

Of course, there’s a long way to go this season. But three wins in the first five races for the generally slow-starting Johnson doesn’t bode well for the competition.

Oh, and by the way, Martinsville is next up. That’s the slick little oval where Johnson has won five of the last seven races.

Since he finished 32nd in his first Martinsville start in the sprint of 2002, Johnson has never run worse than ninth at the little track. Overall, he has 12 top-fives in 16 starts, including six victories.

Johnson doesn’t like playing the numbers game. He figures other people can keep track of the statistics.

“I just want to win races,” he said. “I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I feel extremely confident in the car, in my race team. The areas that we focus on, I feel like I really understand my weak spots.  There’s really cool joy that comes with trying to be better in those areas.”

As much as Jimmie is enjoying this, race fans should be eating it up, too. Who knows when somebody else will come along and dominate like this.

And, by the way, if you find any of those weak spots he mentioned, please let the rest of the Cup field know about them. Nobody has spotted them yet.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 27 2010
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Steve says:

    How many times do we have to read an article like this about Johnson. He wins alot and most of us have gotten over that. Get over the fact that he is not popular and stop trying to tell us who to like. This has been talked about for the last 4 years. There are plenty of other stories in the garage to write about, but you choose this one. Move on already!!

  • SB says:

    I’m sure that JJ and Chad will be recognized as one of the best ever in Nascar eventually. Part of the problem comes from the ‘redo’ of how a Championship is won these days. A lot of fans just don’t find a 10 race playoff as legitimate as an entire season title. Fair or not, that’s the way it is. Then, JJ being such a nice, regular, run of the mill guy just doesn’t imspire people. Face it, would anyone ‘hate’ him if they weren’t just bored with him winning so much? What’s to hate? Maybe it’s just because, at least in public, he’s so….invisible. You can ‘hate’ a Kyle Busch or a Dale Senior, but Jimmie? He doesn’t inspire any great emotion one way or the other. Maybe that’s the problem.

  • Vicki says:

    I’m a huge 48 fan and I’m loving this but it does bother me that fans don’t appreciate it as much as I think they should. I firmly believe, though, that someday Jimmie will be one of the great NASCAR legends. Maybe it won’t happen during the immediacy of today but eventually, I think NASCAR will see him as the treasure he is.