What Jimmie Johnson Must Do to Become the Greatest Driver in NASCAR History
It's safe to say that Jimmie Johnson has solidified his spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He has captured the Daytona 500 twice (2006, 2013). He is a five-time Sprint Cup champion (2006-2010). He has won 62 points races since his rookie year of 2002, plus the 2005 Budweiser Shootout as well as three victories in the All-Star race at Charlotte (2003, 2006, 2012).
He's a great driver. As a matter of fact, he's one of the greatest of our time. But he isn't the greatest of all time.
Now, that's not saying that he'll never be the greatest of all time. On the contrary, he's on the fast track to achieving that goal. He's a guaranteed threat to win at every race track, for one. He holds a cerebral advantage over his competition as he has won on every type of track and has contended for the win at every other track. He's the only driver to win five straight championships. All this, yet he still has a few years to go before he turns 40. Even then, I doubt he'll be slowed down.
But there is a catch. Johnson has thoroughly run roughshod over the Sprint Cup Series. But in the Nationwide Series he has only recorded one win. As a matter of fact, there was a period of time when it seemed like he couldn't be kept from wadding up a Nationwide car. Remember Watkins Glen in 2000? On that note, remember his ill-fated debut in a truck at Bristol in 2008?
If he were more accomplished in NASCAR's other national series, then things would look a lot better. Then again, it is possible that he is successful in the Sprint Cup Series because he doesn't focus on Nationwide or trucks that much. But we're talking about the possibility of being the greatest NASCAR driver of all time here. That is an all-encompassing title that includes multiple series, not just the premier league.
Will Jimmie Johnson be the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time?
Drivers' legacies can also be measured by their impact with the fans. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, arguably the two greatest drivers in NASCAR history, interacted in such a way with the fans that week-in and week-out, their autographs would be the most sought-after. Their personalities added to their allure. Johnson's reputation could be helped greatly if he were just a little more colorful.
I'm not saying that he should go beat up on some hapless driver to earn some street cred. "Jimmie Johnson: Gangsta" just doesn't have an appealing ring to it. But it has understandably been pointed out that Johnson is too vanilla at the racetrack. He's an entertaining individual away from the speedway as anyone who follows him on Twitter can testify. As a matter of fact, remember the video he made for Will Ferrell's comedy site, "Funny or Die?" Yet when it comes to his on-track personality he isn't entertaining. Sure, he's fierce and driven, much like his predecessor Jeff Gordon. But even with his work in the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, he's not really high up there when it comes to fan impact.
It's admirable that the advantage he has over his competition is psychological, but when it comes to being imposing, he doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve like Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart. Now those two are guys whose ferocity I respect. Think about it. When was the last time you saw Johnson animated?
I believe he'll attain the title of "Greatest of All-Time." He's well on pace to get championships six, seven and eight. He'll surpass Jeff Gordon's win total. He'll record victories at every track on the circuit. He'll set some Petty-esque records before he hangs up his helmet. But he's going to have to grow outside of the Sprint Cup Series performance-wise and possibly ruffle up a few feathers in the process. He needs to build up his reputation with the fans. If he succeeds in both, then he should be just fine.
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