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Johnson Says He’s Is Not On The Top – Yet

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 13 2011

Some are saying the Jimmie Johnson is the greatest driver in NASCAR history. Johnson waves off that kind of talk. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
RacinToday.com

Phoenix, Ariz. – Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Jimmie Johnson.

Who?

Johnson.

Swell.

Johnson emerged from the shadows of the off-season last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, looking as determined as ever when taking part in a three-day test session in preparation for the upcoming Grand-Am Rolex 24.

The Johnson sighting, which continued Wednesday in a Phoenix International Raceway promotion at a Scottsdale, Ariz., casino resort, was probably the last piece of news non-Johnson fans wanted to hear six weeks before the season-opening Daytona 500.

If there’s one thing Johnson detractors don’t want to endure is another Johnson drive to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Johnson won an unprecedented fifth straight title last season, a feat so significant it has

Jimmie Johnson is piling up the victories. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

attracted attention from current and former athletes in other professional sports and also spawned conversation regarding Johnson’s position in NASCAR history.

Is he the greatest ever?

Probably not. At least, not yet, anyway.

Although Johnson is No. 10 on the all-time career list with 53 wins, he trails all-time leader Richard Petty, who won an astounding 200 races. Johnson also trails Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt in championships as both won seven titles, but never more than two straight.

Only Cale Yarborough won as many as three straight crowns.

Even Johnson recognizes it is far too early to even consider him being placed atop such a throne.

“I think it’s a legitimate debate and I’m happy to see the conversation is out there,” Johnson said. “I would love to be considered the best NASCAR driver. But I still feel it’s way too early to form an opinion, especially when a guy is still in the middle of his career. That’s something that’s talked about around retirement, not the stage I’m at now.

“But what I’ve seen by winning these five championships is how it resonates through all of pro sports. Athletes in other sports may not know much about NASCAR, but they know winning five championships in a row at the pro level is virtually impossible.

“I saw (former NBA superstar Michael) Jordan recently (during vacation on the Caribbean island of Anguilla) and was joking about having won six titles. I said, ‘You have six, but you don’t five in a row.’ He smiled and said, ‘You’re right.’

“Like I said, I’m happy to be in the conversation. I feel it’s a good argument to have. But it’s a

You've got to figure that at the very least, Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have decent job security with boss Rick Hendrick. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

little early. People should wait until someone is ready to hang up their helmet.”

What would it take for Johnson to begin assessing his place in the sport’s history?

“I think eight championships would be that,” Johnson said. “If you could pass Earnhardt and Petty, whoever it is, that would probably be the seal.”

Johnson, however, isn’t looking that far down the road. The future is for dreamers, Johnson reasoned. Johnson is focus on the present, which at the moment includes trying to add a sixth straight crown.

“I’m not one to look too far ahead,” he s aid. “I’m also realistic. At some point this is going to come to an end, let’s be honest. As long as I put in 110 percent and so does the team, I’ll be content with where we finish. I’d be foolish to throw a fit and be upset if we weren’t able to win six in a row.”

As for those that have grown weary of Johnson’s domination and believe Johnson’s reign should run out of gas for the good of the sport, Johnson hardly minds the chatter.

“I actually enjoy it,” Johnson said. “The reason I enjoy it is when I was growing up watching NASCAR, the guy that dominated it was hated terribly. It was Dale Earnhardt. Then, it went on to Jeff Gordon. And, then, I guess now it’s me.

“I get it. I understand it. But at the end of the day I’m making people mad for that reason, then we’re doing well.”

Doing well? Try great.

Jimmie Johnson will next be in a Daytona Prototype car.

In nine seasons, Johnson never has finished worse than fifth in the standings, He’s much-appreciative of success he never dared envision.

“Growing up in southern California, I knew of NASCAR,” Johnson said. “But I thought Indy car was the route I was going to pursue. It’s mind-boggling to me to have this much success in this short period of time.

“Yes, I believe in myself. But in my mind, I don’t say I’m better than another driver or I’m going to win a championship or a race. I don’t do that. I find that’s in the arrogant or cocky category. Anytime I’ve allowed myself to go that route, reality has slapped me in my face and things have gone wrong. So I’ve been humbled.

“I also spent a large part of my career as a ‘B’ driver on a two-car team so I spent a large part of my career in the shadows. I’ve had to find some inner peace with my own abilities and my own kind of goals, to know what I’m capable of. It was just all about building that experience, building my skills so when it was time, I was ready to have this kind of success.”

And whether fans and a huge chunk of pit road are ready or not, Johnson is ready to start knocking on the door toward another championship.

– Mark Armijo is the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 13 2011
12 Comments

12 Comments »

  • Look at any list of the all-time best, or all-time ten best, and it will always be top heavy with the latest stars. In twenty years or so, all the top stars of today will be forgotten as new stars come on the scene, just as the super stars of yeaterday are being pushed into the background today.
    Twenty years from now, even Richard Petty may not make the top ten list.
    My point is that people who appoint the best–drivers, golfers, or whatever–are always most most influenced by the current crop.

  • Dara says:

    I don’t really care if he Wins a 6th or 7th so on.I love the way he Think’s.If More Driver’s and Team’s had the Meaningful and closeness that The Lowes Team has they would surly go a lot farther.They work together like Family.They DO EVERYTHING WITH PURE CLASS.And nothing can beat that.That’s Why They When Every Year.So when & if their Reign comes to an End ,It will be With Class.Because They Are the best at Every Part of the Sport.It’s All About How The TEAM WORKS TOGETHER.lOVE YOU JJ AND THE WHOLE LOWES TEAM.

  • Noreen Bailey says:

    Having a Jimmie Johnson room full of 48 gear,I am obviously very partial in my remarks.He ,in all probability,will receive the recognition he unquestionably deserves as the very best. Not only as a driver but also by the way he conducts himself as a man.

  • Terry says:

    The number of championships one wins has more to do with the quality of his competition he raced against tha his talent as a driver. Someone needs to do a detailed comparison of talent that Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt, and Petty faced during their careers to determine who was the greatest most talented driver of all time.

    • Terry says:

      The most TALENTED driver…? Non of those listed….
      DAVID PEARSON…..fits that discription….
      105 wins rinning Part time.

    • Tessee Izamee says:

      If competition is heavily weighted, I think history will be favored toward Jimmie owning the title all time greatest. The track is full of cars, teams and drivers that all could own the title. Yet, in spite of that competition, Team 48 always comes out on top… 5 years in a row! That is beyond what any other NASCAR team has ever accomplished. For my vote, that makes Jimmie the Greatest.

      Here’s to JJ getting a six pack in 2011 =)

      Peace, Tess

  • Tessee Izamee says:

    If NASCAR didnt have the chase foramt Mike, JJ may or may not have won it. That being said, if it was a straight point race you would see the Lowes team attacking the championship with a different strategy. he team merely make strategic choices based on the the set of rules provided to them. (For the record, the NFL or College ball doesnt award a championship based on entire season, they too have a playoff season.)

    I dont know if he is the Greatest and agree that judgemnt should be saved for 10 or 20 years from now when he throws in the towel. LOTs can happen between now and then. Until then, he clearly is one of the greatest and i very much agree he is a class act!)

    See yall in Daytona next week.. Peace, Tess

  • Mike says:

    It’s apples to oranges to compare Jimmy to the others as their championships were won over a “whole” season and not a 10 race playoff. I don’t believe that his feat could have been done under the old format as the consitency required would be harder to get that many in a row. Nascar is watering their sport down in adding more drivers to the chase and then doing an elimination. What’s the sense of having a 36 race schedule when the first 26 mean nothing, unlike stick and ball sports, you have to make the playoffs and a championship in those sports is based more on the whole season wheras in Nascar, you don’t have to be on top of your game to actually make the chase. Just run decent.

  • Vicki says:

    Is Jimmie the greatest? He may be before his career is over. As for now, he is certainly one of the greatest…and a class act.

  • John Gaz says:

    And Johnson never will be, 7 Championships or not, if he makes it, Dale Earnhardt Sr has this title “Greatest of All Time”, NEVER WILL BE ANOTHER !!!

    • Johnny says:

      Dale Earnhardt Sr isn`t top tree

    • terry harris says:

      WHY???? Because he took out anybody in his way to win. There are drivers that dominate for a time and then someone comes along and dethrones them. That is what happened to Earnhardt, Gordon came along. Gordon had that spot until Johnson came along. Soon someone will come along and dethrone Jimmie. No one knows when that is going to happen.The question is who is going to topple him and when?