October 22, 2013

Can You Handle The Truth About Jimmie?

I used this same line a year ago when discussing Jimmie Johnson's dominance at Dover International Speedway, but let's digest the beginning of this clip before we proceed with a similar discussion:

Here's the truth for you, NASCAR fans: Jimmie Johnson is the best driver of this generation.  You might not be able to handle that right now, but when we look back in 20 or 30 years, he's the one we'll be telling our grandchildren about.  His greatness will be what we remember.

Right now, a lot of NASCAR fans hate JJ.  And that's ok.  That hatred is born from an unbearable admiration.  It stinks having to admit the existence of someone else's superiority and that can cause a lot of resentment.

He's hated because he puts a priority on winning and does that better than anyone else in the business.  It's the same reason that fans in other regions hate the Patriots far more than us New Englanders really hate any of their teams.

Nobody hated the Pats when they went 1-15 in 1990 or 2-14 in 1992.  No, it wasn't until they started winning championships, with a coach that scribbles an injury report like its a shopping list and a quarterback that married a super model, that people started resenting the three-time Super Bowl winners.

The reverse psychology can be seen in NASCAR this year.

The late Dale Earnhardt was the most popular driver in the sport in the early 1990s.  He won four championships in five years from 1990-1994, but was edged by a 23-year-old for the 1995 title, finishing second by just 34 points (which at the time was far less than it is now).

Earnhardt would never win another championship, while this driver, who was begrudgingly nicknamed "Wonder Kid" would win again in 1996-97 and 2001.  Fans of Earnhardt hold it against this driver that he stopped "The Intimidator" from winning more titles, but what's the issue here?  That there was another driver in the sport doing his best to win a championship and having more success in doing so!?

It sounds kind of silly when I put it that way, because it is.  The entire point of any competition is to determine a single winner.  There's only one champion and whole bunch of losers, and nobody likes the champion that turns them into a loser, especially when it's the same person over and over again.

No one liked Jeff Gordon
when he was winning all
his championships. (Getty)
The driver I just referenced, of course, is Jeff Gordon, and NASCAR fans have certainly changed their opinion on him.  Twelve seasons removed from his last title, fans have taken such an interest in seeing him rekindle his former glory that their demands spearheaded the addition of Gordon into this year's Chase as an unprecedented 13th driver.

Now, if I told you that a decade from now, you'd all be clamoring to add Jimmie Johnson into the Chase for a shot at one more title, that would sound ridiculous to you, wouldn't it?

Perhaps now it does, but when Johnson moves on from his prime and begins to slip, there will be a sense of loss for the way things used to be, even if you didn't like them that way.  We're humans; we get nostalgic.

Feel free to disagree, but the outpouring of support for Gordon after the unfortunate circumstances that left him outside the Chase was astounding.  In a poll conducted on NHMS.com, 62% of fans agreed that Gordon should have been added to the Chase.  When you think about his lack of approval rating when he was beating Earnhardt for those titles, you can see a lot of people have switched camps.  Most people would prefer to remember Gordon the champ, not Gordon the winless driver who missed the Chase.

Johnson is similar a decade later.  Like Gordon, he's a Californian that some consider to be an outsider to the heart of NASCAR country.  He's soft-spoken and well-mannered.  He has a beautiful wife and two little girls that mean the world to him.

And, he has a crew chief that might as well be starring in "Revenge of the Nerds."  Chad Knaus infuriates most fans for his ability to work in the gray area and get something extra out of the car that most teams seem to lack.

Some accuse him of being a cheater, and that has some basis, as he has been penalized on multiple occasions.  However, let me point out that while several teams and crew chiefs have faced penalties with the Generation-Six car in 2013, Knaus and Johnson haven't been an issue ... and they're the ones leading the standings.

Brad Keselowski and his 2012 championship-winning crew chief, Paul Wolfe, have been penalized twice in 2013, but it's been water under the bridge since he missed the Chase this year.  That's not to insinuate that Wolfe is "cheater."  My belief is that the top engineers in the sport, those that routinely produce the fastest cars, usually experiment a little more with this or that to squeeze the best results they can out of a car.  That makes a lot of sense from a competitive standpoint, but if you're constantly pushing the limits, sooner or later, you might go past them.

So, let's bring it back to the truth about NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson is the best driver in the sport right now and might end up being the best ever.  I understand that fans of Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt (both of whom have seven titles) are vehemently disagreeing, but Johnson's resume is far from complete.

As frustrating as it is to some,
Jimmie Johnson might not
even by halfway done winning
championships. (Getty)
He's the only driver to ever win five championships in a row, and he looks well-poised to win a sixth title in 2013.  He's 37 this year.  Petty won his fifth at the age of 37; Earnhardt didn't even win his fourth until he was 39.  Needless to say, Johnson is not on the back-nine of his career quite yet.

Since he became a full-time driver in 2002, Johnson hasn't finished any lower than sixth in the standings, and he's never won less than two races in a season.  He's won at least five races in eight of his 12 full-time seasons and should he win this year, he'll have won a title in half of his seasons.  Earnhardt raced 22 full seasons and finished in second the season before passing away.  In his 24th full season, Petty finished fourth before tailing off for the last decade of his career.

If Johnson races that long, he'd be on pace to win 11-12.  That's pretty ridiculous!  Now, I can understand why so many fans can't stand having him in the sport.

Every title he wins is one less for the rest of the competition to win.  That includes drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, or Ryan Newman, all of whom are without a title in their otherwise successful careers and, honestly, might never earn the coveted Cup.

The beauty of sports is that you can dislike and boo Jimmie Johnson the competitive entity, but you also need to accept that jabs at him mean nothing nor will they tarnish his legacy.  The simple truth, accept it or not, is that Johnson is one of the greatest drivers of all-time.


  1. I am a die hard Jimmy Johnson fan and I stand up to any one who put him down ,they are entitled to their opinion but facts are facts.

    1. if you are a die hard fan then please spell his name right??? JIMMIE!! but I totally agree...he is the BEST!! GO JIMMIE!!!! :)

  2. I am a die hard stock car racing fan and I think Johnson is a great driver. I also think he and Knaus have the same type relationship that Gordon and Evernham had years ago. that is PART of the reason both drivers have been so successful. I believe there are two more points: 1. Hendrick motorsports is arguably the best funded organization in NASCAR, and this funding allows top choices in machinery as well as engineering/shop talent. Could Johnson/Knaus be five-time champs under Gibbs, Roush, Penski, or Childress? you decide. 2. It is also my OPINION that NASCAR has favored General Motors ever since the 1970s (when the big blocks went away)...Back then, Mopar and Ford were dominant. Remember???