The 2007 season ended up being the sole property of Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson. Not only did Jimmie dominate the sport, he put himself in a position to be mentioned with some of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport.
What Johnson accomplished during the season, especially during the 10-race stretch of the Chase, was nothing short of phenomenal. Over the course of the season he posted 10 victories and 24 top-10 finishes, but a closer look at the results of the Chase’s 10 races show that Johnson definitely saved some of his best racing for when it really counted.
His Chase results show four consecutive race wins and eight top-10’s that gave him a record point total during the chase of 1,663 points. That was 77 more points than the 1,606 runner-up Jeff Gordon posted, and his amount would have been enough to win the Chase in any of the previous years the Chase format had been used.
Unfortunately for the rest of the series, at the age of 32 Johnson may just be approaching his prime as a driver. Besides his back-to-back titles, he has also posted a couple of runnerup finishes and a pair of fifthplace finishes in his six-year Cup career. His back-to-back titles represent the 14th time in the sport it has been done and puts him in a position to go for his third straight next season. That has only been accomplished one time, by Cale Yarborough during the 1976-78 seasons.
Of course, behind any championship driver in the sport there is an owner that gives him what he needs and a crew that knows what to do with what the owner gives them and Johnson is no exception. Crew chief Chad Knaus has been on top of Johnson’s pit box throughout his Cup career and has been known to push the envelope when it comes to not only giving Jimmie the equipment to win with but also to make the bold call when all but a handful of laps remain in a race.
Knaus will never be accused of being a conservative crew chief as he has had to make several trips to NASCAR’s big white truck to answer questions about the legality of his car. Sometimes he couldn’t give Big Brother the answer it was looking for and he has had to stay home and watch some races on TV, but even in his absence his team still performs at a championship level which is an awesome testimony to his leadership ability.
Combine Johnson’s ability behind the wheel with Knaus’s ability to build cars and motivate the team with the sport’s best owner in Rick Hendrick, and it becomes easy to see why Johnson will be sitting at the head table this Friday for the sport’s annual awards banquet. It will not be the first time for Hendrick at the head table as he has seven titles in his trophy case, second only to Petty Enterprises’ nine.
The Hendrick organization is the blueprint for success in the sport as his four teams combined to win 18 of the 36 races on the Nextel Cup schedule. Johnson’s four consecutive wins in the Chase drew a lot of attention but from the owner’s side of it, Hendrick had a win streak of six consecutive wins in the Chase as Gordon won two in a row before Johnson reeled off his streak of four.
Hendrick knows you don’t sit still in the sport if you want continue to stay on top and that is why this coming season he will add Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his stable of drivers. Dale Jr. would no doubt be the lead driver with any other organization but with Hendrick he will be sharing resources with a couple of drivers in Gordon and Johnson who can boast of owning six championship rings. That would be tough for a driver that has been the main draw like Dale Jr. has over the years, but wait and see if Hendrick doesn’t have a way of not only keeping Johnson, Gordon and Earnhardt happy but also putting all three drivers in the hunt for another title. Could it be that the only suspense in 2008 is which Hendrick driver gets to go to New York at the end of the season and sit at the head table?