Why comparing Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt isn’t fair
After watching the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, I really don’t know what else you could look for in a championship race.
It was the culmination of nine months and 36 weeks of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. I likened it to Game 7 of the World Series from a few weeks ago. It was similar like the great storylines of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. It even took extra innings to determine who the champion was. And Sunday night at Homestead kind of reminded me of that.
I guess I was somewhat surprised, but at the same time I shouldn’t have been surprised that all four championship contenders ran upfront the majority of the race. For the third year in a row, under this new championship format, the driver has had to win the race to win the championship.
That’s what I love about this format is there wasn’t anyone simply down there running 12th to 15th, trying to get the finish they needed to seal the deal.
I know there still are folks challenging whether this is the right type of format, where after 35 races it comes down to only four drivers with a chance to win it all. I just don’t know what else anyone could ask for to make this any better. Again, for the last three years, the eventual series champion needed to win the race to win the championship.
One thing that was surprising to me that was built up to Sunday’s race was the lack of conversation about Jimmie Johnson and his chance to rewrite the record books. He just matched what only two other drivers in the entire history of NASCAR has ever been able to accomplish — win seven championships.
Now that he has done it — tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — to me, it surpasses being just a big sports story, it should be a big news story. It truly is an unbelievable accomplishment.
Now that he has done it, folks are going to want to compare him to both Richard and Dale, but you know what, I just don’t think that is fair.
Yes, their number of championships match up, but these three guys raced in totally different eras. It was also accomplished in different ways and different formats. I think the one thing that really raises the bar with what Jimmie, crew chief Chad Knaus and that No. 48 team has accomplished is how they did it.
First, it was the level of competition they were faced with in this millennium. Second, you had the number of different types of cars and rule changes.
Remember, one year there was a wing on the back of the car, and then the next, it was back to a spoiler.
There have been different Chase formats. It didn’t matter what you threw at them, Jimmie and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team overcame it all and now have seven championships to show for it. That to me has put what they have done in big bold letters.
The champagne wasn’t even dry and the confetti hadn’t even stopped flying and the question was asked – what about an eighth championship?
Jimmie said he looked forward to the challenge. Look how quickly in his relatively short career he has won seven championships. It is truly a possibility that he could become the first driver in NASCAR history to win eight championships.
Obviously, making history makes this championship one for the ages, but to me, how they did it has to make it really, really special for them.
Look how they were performing, or better said, weren’t performing in the summer months. Based on that lack of performance and consistency, I don’t know a lot of people outside the Hendrick Motorsports camp that gave the No. 48 much of a chance of winning the championship.
No one overcomes adversity better than Jimmie, Chad and that team. As I mentioned, during the summer months, they really weren’t running well.
They made the Chase, but I guarantee you that very few people had them moving past the second round. Even fewer had them moving into the Championship 4 and winning the title.
If you want another example, just look at what they overcame this past weekend. It started off Friday with all kinds of hiccups in the first round.
Then prior to the race, NASCAR officials took issue with the A-post on the No. 48 car and were forced to start at the rear of the field. Like my FOX NASCAR partner Darrell Waltrip likes to say, “Jimmie, Chad and that whole crowd have ice water running through their veins.”
You simply can’t rattle them.
That’s why I think an eighth championship will be a major storyline at Daytona in February, which for those of you at home keeping score, is only 97 days away.
And one final thought that I want folks to be aware of…
Obviously, all the talk is about Jimmie joining the club with Richard and Dale with seven championships, as well it should be. I mean, it is truly historic.
But, crew chief Chad Knaus joined an even smaller club that is equally rare.
He becomes only the second crew chief, behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman, to win seven or more championships as a crew chief.
Now, Chad is just one mark away from tying Dale Inman with eight championships. In today’s world and competition, what Chad has accomplished is equally as historic.