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Now I know it seems out of place to say “Jimmie Who?” Eleven years ago in 2002 there actually were a lot of people saying it when Jimmie Johnson stepped into that No. 48 Lowe’s car for the first time. Right there tells you a lot about people’s ability to see things that others don’t.
Just like he had done with Jeff Gordon back in 1992, here was car owner Rick Hendrick doing it again with a driver that really hadn’t done all that much on his way up the stock car ladder. Let’s face it, he only had one Nationwide Series win and now here he was driving full-time Cup for the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports.
Then Rick took it a step further and teamed him up with crew chief Chad Knaus. Again there is a case of where people in the garage were saying “Chad Who?” Really and truly when those two were teamed together, the comments were “Whoa, what an odd couple.”
Well, here we are 11 years later and it’s Jimmie along with Chad still having the last laugh. They are asking all those early doubters, “So, how ya like us now?” The numbers that Jimmie, Chad and the No. 48 team have put on the board are amazing. Actually, when you look at the full body of work, amazing doesn’t come close. It’s more like historical.
Since stepping into that Lowe’s Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson has only finished outside the top five in the season-ending points once. Guess where he finished that one lone time outside the top five? He finished sixth. That’s just unheard of. He’s just that consistent and, well, he’s just that good.
The man has amassed 260 top-10 finishes. He has 64 wins and 30 poles. Oh yeah, don’t forget about the history-setting five consecutive championships. You know what’s scary, like really scary, to all his competitors? The guy isn’t done yet. He’s only 37 years old.
Back in the mid-1970s when Cale Yarborough won three consecutive championships, everyone pointed to that record and said it would never be broken. Jimmie didn’t just tie and break it. He shattered it with five consecutive championships. If it seems like he sets new records all the time, well, it’s because he does. Just last weekend at Daytona, he tied a record that not only had only been done like four times in our sport, but also hasn’t been done for 31 years. Jimmie won the Daytona 500 and the July Daytona race. Think about that for a second. It’s been 31 years since the last guy did it! That’s really rare air right there.
I’ve said this many times that Jimmie is the most under-appreciated driver in our sport. I guess sometimes history has to separate itself away to fully appreciate the greatness we are all privileged to be watching.
Think about this: in 2009, Jimmie was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year. That’s not just in racing; that’s in all professional sports. That’s an incredibly huge accomplishment not only for Jimmie but for the sport of NASCAR. Then in 2011 and 2012, he was Forbes Magazine's “Most Influential Athlete.” Again, we aren't just talking motorsports here. We are talking across all professional athletes.
Those are things that are just unheard of, and Jimmie does it so gracefully and with full humility. Quite honestly, he makes it look pretty darn easy. The dominance of the driver, crew chief and team over the last 11 years has been nothing short of picture perfect.
Now sure, they are human and stumble along the way. Just these past few weeks Jimmie has been having an issue with restarts. He even admitted that he got to the point where he was over-thinking it and just relaxed and went back to the way he was doing them before. It sure did work Saturday night to perfection at Daytona, I must say. I would say that issue has been put to rest.
Most people believe this year that the No. 48 team's sixth championship is their's to lose. That might very well be true. Don’t forget, Jimmie was leading the points last year with only two races to go and did lose the championship.
This team has figured out what this new Gen-6 car likes and doesn’t like better than anyone else. Jimmie already has four wins and is leading the points. Everyone knows that except for some restart issues, Jimmie could very easily be sitting at six or seven wins already.
Chad Knaus has never been one afraid to make changes on the crew if he thought it would make the team better and stronger. We’ve already seen that happen this year. I think another reason why they have been so successful is that Chad is pro-active in making the team stronger if the opportunity presents itself, as opposed to being re-active.
Those two together definitely look like an unbeatable combination. Now I am not saying they should start the engraving on the 2013 championship trophy already. Last year proved that to everyone. There are drivers like Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and others that aren’t going to simply roll over on Jimmie. They are going to fight to the bitter end to come out on top.
It sure is going to be fun to watch. We are down to eight races and our regular season is over with the checkered flag at Richmond. Who stays in the top 10 but more importantly who doesn’t in these next eight races is going to be a huge storyline to follow. That plus the always tense and exciting battle for the two Wild-Card spots is going to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.
Now we head to New Hampshire for some lobster and some racing. They’ve had 10 different winners up there. I’d say the odds are pretty good we might see 11 in a row. I can’t wait to get up there. Track president Jerry Gappens and his bunch always put on quite a show, and I expect this weekend to be no different.