Jimmie Johnson arguably is the best NASCAR driver in history.
He’s won five Sprint Cup championships and already has 60 career victories in 398 starts. He’s within 20 points of winning his sixth title in seven years which would put him one behind the record shared by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson had a difficult season last year by his standard and despite his great year this season some would consider it a failure once again. Last year he only won two races and finished sixth in the standings. That was his worst points finish in his Sprint Cup career.
This year, he’s bounced back with five wins, 18 top fives and 24 top 10 finishes in 35 races thus far. He’s having one of his best seasons of his career, but a surge by Brad Keselowski has him 20 points down entering Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead/Miami Speedway. If Johnson fails to win another title this year the question has to come up, when will he win again?
Johnson got a late start into Cup action as he’s already 37 years old. How much longer is he going to want to do this? Most drivers outside of Mark Martin don’t want to hang around until they’re 50 years old.
Johnson isn’t the type of guy that’s going to be bouncing from ride to ride in the twilight of his career, just happy to finish in the top 25. His window for success, believe it or not, is beginning to close. With so much young talent coming up and the competition being better than it’s ever been in NASCAR history, he may not reach two more championships to tie Petty and Earnhardt.
In this day and age people are wanting to see records broken and if guys start off hot and fail to make reach the record, the perception people have of them quickly changes. Keep in mind, many once considered Jeff Gordon the best to ever race and thought he would break every NASCAR record. He won four titles between 1995 and 2001. He’s largely struggled since and hasn’t won a title in over a decade. Many consider him now just one of the best, but he’s no longer considered the greatest. At 40 years old people are counting the days until he retires and saying he doesn’t have it anymore.
Johnson is just three years younger than Gordon.
Might Johnson’s window already be closing like Gordon’s seemingly has? If he can’t win this year and doesn’t win next year, he may never reach seven championships. What is everyone’s perception going to be then?
This guy has won 60 races, five championships, finished runner-up twice (likely soon to be three times), and his worst points finish is sixth in 11 seasons, and may or may not win another title. Would those stats be good enough in a world where the greatest is defined by how many championship rings he has? Look at how players in the NBA and NFL are judged. It’s not what you do in the regular season, but how many titles you’ve won.
Everyone is looking for the next dynasty. Everyone thought Kobe Bryant could pass Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter could catch the Yankees greats of lore. Since their window is closing the talk of best ever has silenced to they were great but nothing like their predecessors.
Meanhile, many were talking about Johnson being the greatest driver in the history of auto racing and weren’t sure whether his string of titles was ever going to end. Everyone thought he was guaranteed to get at least eight championships and ride off in the sunset as the greatest ever.
How quickly things change.
Two years later he may be 0 for 2 at his attempt to start another string and his window of dominance may be at an end. If he never won another championship, would you call him the best ever? A Daytona 500 and four time Brickyard 400 wins may not be enough to be the best ever.
Let the debates begin.
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