Jimmie Johnson raced his heart out to gain his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, nailing it down in the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Going into the 36th and final race of the season, the Californian needed to finish 25th or better and by ending up ninth, he sealed the championship by a margin of 19 points.
For the 2013 season, the 37-year old driver won six times and earned 24 top 10’s with only one DNF in 36 races. During the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he won twice and had nine top-10s, displaying a model of consistency. For his career, he has totaled 66 victories, but it is the growing numbers of championships that are triggering national recognition and prompting comparisons to legendary drivers the late Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and their seven titles.
Johnson grows uncomfortable when the comparison subject crops up, but knows it won’t go away. He says once he hangs up his helmet he will have time for such thoughts. “I hope I can accomplish more, and this team is capable of a lot of great things. To have seven, eight or more is something I don’t want to focus on. I just want to unplug and enjoy the sixth (championship) and let it soak in. When we get to Daytona in February, I guess the question can be asked but not now.
“I am humbled by the nice things that have been said by owners and others in the industry. I think their opinion is very important but my opinion is not. If others are saying it, I would love to be considered that way. If you look at stats, there are still numbers out there to be achieved, and that’s why I say until I hang my helmet up, it is not a fair conversation to have. I am honored to be in the conversation and know I have to face it, especially being this close to seven and being able to tie those guys.”
In addition to being compared to famous race drivers, he’s also being compared to sports greats such as Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. As a friend of Jordan, he said the basketball legend has chided him about winning only five championships, so he can’t wait to text the celebrity to chide him.
Petty said he wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson won as many as 10 championships. Richard Childress has made a similar statement, and Denny Hamlin said he thought Johnson may be the best driver ever. Added crew chief Chad Knaus, “He is an amazing talent; there’s no doubt about it. He can do things with a race car that most mortals can’t I am blessed to be his crew chief.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick toasted his driver and admitted he’s in shock to have won another championship, recalling years ago going to championship banquets to watch Childress and Earnhardt win again and again and wondered what it would feel like to win one.
“Every championship is special, and it makes you hungry to continue to try to win more. Hopefully, we can come back and win more,” Hendrick said. He said full credit has to be heaped on his entire organization, a large contingent of specialists and dedicated individuals who never give up.
About Johnson, Hendrick commented, “Jimmie’s just an unbelievable guy, father and friends. I don’t see any flaws in him. He’s a special guy that doesn’t wave the flag; he lets his actions speak for him.
Johnson, too, never backs off. He trains very hard and is committed to succeeding, day in and day out. And with his focus and determination, more wins and championships are inevitable.
The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is a credit to the sport and a driver that not only is making his mark in the record books, but one that may go down as one of the best ever.