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Jimmie Johnson
(Under Construction)

written 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.

The following 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 Curtis 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.

But what 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



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