By Jerry Bonkowski – Having covered the Chicago Bulls’ run to six NBA championships – a pair of three-straight titles from 1991-93 and again from 1996-98 – I’m well indoctrinated to sports dynasties.
Ditto for having covered each of Jimmie Johnson’s five consecutive Sprint Cup championships from 2006 through 2010.
But one thing struck me Sunday after Johnson won his sixth Sprint Cup championship in eight years, and something that very few media outlets contemplated.
Is JJ about ready to begin a new dynasty?
Think about it:
Had he not fallen short in 2011 and 2012, Sunday would have been Johnson’s eighth Cup championship and would have broken the record of seven titles shared by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Petty and Earnhardt spaced out their championship seasons much more than Johnson did. To win six times in eight seasons is an incomparable feat never before seen in NASCAR annals.
But as incomparable as that feat is, who’s to say Johnson can’t go on to win another two, three or even four more championships in a row to complement Sunday’s crown?
I mean, we could revisit this argument five years from now and be talking about how Johnson just wrapped up his second run of five straight Cup championships?
I admit, when Johnson was en route to his first five straight, I had my reservations about his prowess and, at times, conceded to some of the leading fan criticisms about him and crew chief Chad Knaus.
There were all the past penalties and suspensions for Knaus for pushing the envelope, if not supposed outright cheating.
There was all the criticism of Johnson’s so-called overly vanilla personality, that he was too clean, too much of an All-American boy. Or, as former NFL player Donovan McNabb last week became the latest ex-jock to claim Johnson like most other NASCAR drivers aren’t even worthy of being considered true athletes like their counterparts in stick and ball sports.
There was other criticism that Johnson excelled at 1.5-mile tracks (of which there are five in the Chase), not to mention accusations that the 10-race Chase was set up with tracks that favored Johnson above everyone else.
Those all may or may not have been true at one point in time or other, but I’m here to say I have changed my ways, Ebenezer.
You can’t ignore the fact that Johnson has won six championships in 435 career starts, 241 less races than it took Earnhardt to win seven titles, and nearly 750 races less than Petty competed in to capture his own seven crowns (not to mention 200 wins).
Pound for pound, race for race, season for season and championship for championship, Johnson is beyond compare. I would have said that with gritted teeth a few years ago, but not any more.
Rather, I consider it a privilege that I, along with millions of others, am playing witness to one of the most incredible feats in sports history. Johnson has become to NASCAR what the New York Yankees once were to Major League Baseball, what the Boston Celtics once were to the NBA and what the Montreal Canadiens used to be to the NHL, namely dominators.
Johnson is indeed a dominator unto himself. Sure, he has a great crew chief in Knaus and an exceptionally talented pit crew, but it’s the guy behind the wheel that drives the car to wins and championships.
If you are still reluctant to believe what I’m offering, let’s say for argument’s sake that Johnson on Sunday indeed just kicked off another dynasty like the one he previously had from 2006-10.
One year from now, he potentially can tie Petty and Earnhardt for most championships.
Two years from now, he potentially could become the driver with the most championships in NASCAR history, plain and simple.
And if he somehow is able to maintain his Midas-like touch, by 2017, we could be talking about Johnson’s record-extending 10th Cup championship.
It’s scary to think that someone could be that good, but it truly is a very realistic possibility.
Coming into this season, I didn’t think Johnson would win the championship. In fact, I felt like many others that his run in the sun was over after 2010, that he’d never win another Cup title.
Now that I have eaten crow for my foolishness, I don’t see anything standing in Johnson’s way or stopping him from equaling what he did from 2006 through 2010.
He’s that good.
Heck, after what he showed us this past season, capped off with Sunday’s crowning achievement, I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson went on to win the next 10 straight Cup championships.