Jeff Gordon says he’s heard the arguments that attempt to diminish the number of NASCAR Premier Series championships Jimmie Johnson has won.
And he’s calling bull on them. In fact, Gordon, the winner of four such titles himself, insists that it is more difficult to claim championships now than at any time previously in NASCAR’s long and storied history. He also said he has no doubts that Johnson, 41, will make more history by winning at least an eighth title before he's done driving.
Johnson clinched his seventh title Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most championships of all time.
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“A lot of people ask me — the points have changed and the Chase format isn’t the same as when you and Dale Earnhardt won championships, and I say, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I don’t think you can fairly compare the two scenarios or even pull Richard (Petty) into that,’ “ said Gordon, a retired driver who now works as a NASCAR analyst for FOX Sports. “But what I can tell you is I think it’s harder to win seven now than back then. I look at the competition level, the Chase format, the variables and difficulty of getting from round to round.
“What he is accomplishing may be more significant than what Richard and Dale achieved.”
Darrell Waltrip, Gordon’s analyst partner in the FOX NASCAR broadcast booth and a winner of three Premier Series championships himself, did add that he thinks Johnson will be hard-pressed to win an eighth title. Then again, he’s not ruling that out.
“I don’t know if he has an eighth championship in him,” Waltrip said. “I had thought six was his maximum. Johnson had a couple of bad years where he had trouble in the Chase and didn’t make it to the Championship 4, so I wasn’t sure the (new) Chase (elimination) format (Introduced in 2014) suited him.
“With the way the competition and rules are today, it seems unfathomable he could be in the position to make history, but Johnson is the coolest driver out there. He’s the prototype driver who sits on a hot stove and pees ice water. … I won’t ever say he can’t do it because he has had a lot of consistency with the same car, crew chief and team his entire career, and that’s crucial to continued success. I don’t think he has an eighth in him, but I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he and Chad Knaus end up winning 10 championships. After all, he is Jimmie Johnson.”
Gordon said he strongly believes his former teammate at Hendrick Motorsports will make history with an eighth title.
“Now, I think the motivation turns into ‘I’ve tied the greats Richard and Dale with seven, but I want to stand alone on my own with eight,” Gordon said. “I truly believe he will get eight. He will go for eight, and I don’t think he stops until he gets it.”