Everyone who follows the sport of Sprint Cup Racing has his or her own way of ranking the greatness of a driver.
Some will look no farther than a driver’s win total as the basis of where that driver’s place is in the history of the sport, while others will say that the only thing that really matters is how many championships a driver has.
Regardless of the method that you may use, Jimmie Johnson’s fourth consecutive title that he clinched on Sunday at Homestead Miami put him in the record book as the only driver to accomplish such a feat in the history of the sport.
His latest title also put him in some pretty exclusive company as only the fourth driver in history to win more than three championships.
Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. have seven titles each, but Johnson now joins his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon with four titles.
That’s an impressive group of drivers with which Johnson now finds himself included, but the reality is that the chances are great that Johnson will continue to add even more titles before he decides to crawl out from behind the wheel for the final time.
Johnson’s latest title, just like every title won before him in the sport, is the culmination of a group of people working together to achieve a very high goal.
Johnson has been the benefactor of driving for Hendrick Motorsports, which has clearly established itself as the gold standard in the sport that every organization has been chasing for several years. Johnson’s fourth championship was the 12th NASCAR championship for owner Rick Hendrick, and at the age of 34, Johnson is only now in the prime of his racing career.
Joining Johnson and Hendrick in making up this championship equation is crew chief Chad Knaus. There isn’t even an argument in the garage area whenever the question comes up about who is the best crew chief on pit road.
Knaus operates at a level that the rest of his peers at the present time can’t come close to duplicating. Knaus has the uncanny ability to unload his car at the track on Friday with a good baseline to work with, and then once the race starts, he makes it even better with every pit stop.
Knaus’s leadership ability also shows in the precision that his pit crew goes about their work on race day. Seldom does Johnson ever enter the pits that he doesn’t leave any worse than when he entered and more often than not, the crew picks up a spot or two for Johnson, which is so critical with the new COT, which makes passing very difficult on the track.
Johnson’s team has also enjoyed the stability of having only one primary sponsor during his eight full-time seasons in the sport.
Lowe’s has been across the hood of his Chevrolet and the chest of his driver’s uniform every time that he has visited victory lane, and for each of his four championships. That kind of longevity has become increasingly difficult to achieve in the sport, as even longtime sponsors have been leaving as of late.
The loss of sponsorship dollars have torn apart many once-successful operations, but don’t look for this to be the case for Hendrick and Johnson, as it was just recently announced that Lowe’s had added three more years on its contract which wasn’t up until after the 2010 season.
The rest of the winning formula is firmly set for a continuation of the team’s winning ways as Hendrick announced last week that he had signed Johnson to a five-year extension of his contract, which now locks him up with Hendrick’s #48 team through the 2015 season. Hendrick is also in discussions with Knaus and he has made his wishes known that he would like to sign him to a lifetime contract with the organization.
All of that is bad news for the rest of the series, especially when you figure in that Mark Martin, who finished second in the points followed by Jeff Gordon in third, are teammates of Johnson at Hendrick. Knowing that, don’t you feel the odds will be great when the season opens next February at Daytona that at season’s end the championship trophy will somehow find its way to Hendrick Motorsports‚ trophy case?