With his win at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson didn’t just earn himself another grandfather clock. Taking the checkered flag last weekend assured Johnson an opportunity to race for another Sprint Cup title in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. If he can finish ahead of the other three challengers, he will win his seventh championship.
If the pieces come together, it will be a historic achievement. It will be Johnson’s first championship since 2013 and his first under the new Chase format. He will also become only the third NASCAR driver to win seven championships, a feat previously accomplished by Hall-of-Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
As Johnson marched toward multiple championships, he became a polarizing figure as some fans who booed his every win. Even last weekend, as he climbed from his car, you could hear a smattering of boo.
Should Johnson win at Homestead, there will be those who will be quick to declare his feat to be insufficient to place him alongside Petty and Earnhardt. While every fan is entitled to their opinion, they should not be so quick to downplay Johnson’s seventh win as if it takes away from Earnhardt and Petty’s legacies.
Usually, the word “I” doesn’t figure into my articles for Popular Speed but here, I will make an exception: I am a Dale Earnhardt, Sr. fan. With due respect to Johnson, Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and others who enter the conversation as who was the “greatest driver of all time,” my vote goes to Earnhardt.
Having said that, I respect what Johnson has done in his career and will not be disappointed if his 2016 season ends with his seventh championship. Jimmie Johnson tying Dale Earnhardt’s record will not diminish Earnhardt’s legacy any more than Richard Petty’s legacy was in 1994 with Earnhardt’s seventh championship.
Richard Petty, with 200 wins, seven championships and an equal number of Daytona 500 wins, earned “the King” a place in the upper echelon of NASCAR all-time elite drivers. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. did the same with 76 wins, seven championships and his 1998 Daytona 500 victory. Johnson, with six championships, 79 wins, and two Daytona 500 victories is already among the all-time greats. A win at Homestead for a seventh championship would raise his career achievements up, not bring down those of either Petty or Earnhardt.
If Johnson’s seventh championship were to come to pass, NASCAR would not lose anything. Instead, it would gain a historic moment not been seen in a generation and likely will not to be seen again for another.
Even if Johnson’s seventh championship doesn’t come in 2016 or ever, he is still worthy of being part of the conversation as to who is NASCAR’s greatest driver. Whether he, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. or any other driver deserves the title is up to individual opinion. Nothing that happens at Homestead will change that.
Johnson, for his part, says he is honored to be a part of that conversation. Nothing that happens at Homestead will change that, either.
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