If there was any doubt before Sunday that Jimmie Johnson would forever be a NASCAR legend, it was quickly dispelled when he crossed the checkerboard for his sixth Sprint Cup Championship.
Johnson came back from 23rd position—the same spot that he needed to finish in to clinch his championship—to finish ninth and hold off Matt Kenseth en route to making history.
ESPN Stats and Information summed up the elite company that Johnson joined on Sunday:
It was an overwhelming notion among NASCAR faithful that the seven championships notched by greats Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt would never be touched.
That feeling only intensified among the masses even throughout the beginning of Johnson's run, as the sport crept into its most competitive era in distant memory.
But throughout that, Johnson found a way to make five straight titles from 2005 to 2010 look easy, almost to a point where they weren't fully appreciated.
This one in 2013, however, cannot be discounted. He won two Chase races, the second of which allowed him to become the outright leader, and he never looked back.
When stacked up against Petty and Earnhardt—two who nobody expected to receive company anytime soon, if ever—it's hard to ignore the reality that Johnson would become the best ever if he won a couple of more.
A consistent stretch of dominance is one thing Johnson has going for him in this argument. Petty won his titles from 1964 to 1979—a 15-year gap—while Earnhardt got his seven in 14 years from 1980 to 1994.
Johnson? Six in eight years. He also finished in the top five for four straight years, immediately before starting his span of five straight.
Should he continue his dominance, which wouldn't be surprising given he's on the world's best team in Hendrick Motorsports, he could make that seven in nine years. Heck, he could surpass both Petty and Earnhardt in two seasons—eight in 10 years total.
Until then, it will be hard to make an argument that Johnson is the best ever. But there's no doubt that he has significantly altered how people will perceive the hierarchy of NASCAR's all-time greats.
NASCAR traditionalists don't have to let go of the fact that Petty and Earnhardt are No. 1 and 2 (in no particular order).
But they have to let go of the notion that the all-time rankings will always read that way. That could be changing very, very soon.
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