JIMMIE JOHNSON….. SUPERSTARwritten by Steve Samples
Toward the end
of the 2002 NASCAR season my friend Larry Graff (Jeff Gordon Online)
sent me an e-mail. “What do you think of the new crop of Cup driver’s?
Harvick, Newman, Stewart, Busch, Earnhardt Junior?” I carefully thought
out my reply.
day I responded. Jimmie Johnson is the best. He’ll win more
races than all of them. Sometimes I miss on educated guesses. This
time I didn’t.
When number 48
hangs up his helmet he will be among NASCAR’s all time winners. He will
have multiple Cup championships, and he will be mentioned in the same
sentence as people like Lorenzen,
Petty, Pearson, and Roberts.
Of the group his
driving style and demeanor is most like Lorenzen. Although Jimmie will
crack a light hearted joke in the midst of battle (something the “Golden
Boy” would never do) he plans races, controls track situations, and
manipulates his vehicle much the same way. And when push comes to shove
and the money is on the line, he’ll give a driving lesson or two to the
recognized “best” driver on the circuit. In Johnson’s case it’s Tony
Stewart. In Lorenzen’s it was
Turner. In both cases the guy counting his money at day’s end was
not supposed to be the better driver. That’s why pundits need to see
the forest AND the trees.
So how does JJ
rate against his friend and car owner Jeff Gordon, the series all time
winner? Pretty darn well. Yes, there is consensus that Gordon is an
automatic hall of famer, but so is Johnson. If the man retired today
his accomplishments rate among the best efforts in the sports history.
So let’s take a closer look.
When the 48 car
was offered to Jimmie Johnson it was not the best ride in the stable. To
the contrary, when the dyno rated engine performance….. the best power
plants went to number 24. And why not? Gordon was and is an
established superstar. As time has passed however, things change. In
the Hendrick garage today Johnson gets equipment as good as Gordon. He
has earned it. And he earned it in the early days, going toe to toe
with every driver on the circuit and coming away with an impressive
group of victory’s and top 10’s.
On the track the
man is a master. He stays out of trouble, leads the race when
circumstances dictate, and usually puts himself in a position to win at
race end. Sounds like a simple format, but it’s not. Ego’s glistening
in the wind; hot heads controlling decisions on the track, the circuit
is loaded with driver’s who have adapted the Junior Johnson mentality.
Lead every lap. You can’t lose if you are in front when the checkers
fall. Unfortunately, you can’t win when the checkers fall if you aren’t
on the racetrack. That understanding in hand, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff
Gordon, Jeff Burton, and Matt Kenseth may be alone at the top. If
Kenseth and Burton had the physical ability of the aforementioned pair,
they’d see victory circle far more often.
separates Johnson from his contemporaries? It’s the same criteria that
made Richard Petty the sports all time winner. He is the lead man in an
organization that permeates success. There is no better crew chief on
the NASCAR circuit than Chad Knaus. There are no better car builders
than the crew at Hendrick. His pit crew is proficient. And the wheel
man in the 48 car gets around the track better than perhaps anyone
except ‘ole number 24. Or is it the 24 that gets around better than
anyone except the 48?
That may be the
real question for future historians.
In the meantime,
expect a lot of winners checks to have the name Johnson on the top
line. He may just be the best ever!
Jimmie Johnson Statistics
Nascar Nextel Cup Series Tickets
Copyright © 2003
by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised:
06/08/12 08:11:26 -0400.
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