Defending Sprint Cup Series Champion and current points leader Jimmie Johnson is racing for an unprecedented fifth straight championship.
Johnson is currently tied for second with teammate Jeff Gordon in all-time championships with four. Leading the way in championship wins are the King, Richard Petty, and the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt Sr., each with seven championships.
Many have asked the question: Would another Cup championship make Johnson the best ever?
He has an excellent resume to defend that question. Johnson has accumulated 53 wins, 129 top-5 finishes, 196 top-10 finishes, and four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships in his 10-year career. But does this make him the best?
What names come to mind when you think of the NASCAR greats? Here are just a few: the Pettys, the Earnhardts, the Allisons, the Bakers, Junior Johnson, Waltrip, Yarborough, and many more.
Let’s take Earnhardt, for example. His aggressive racing style earned him the nickname the Intimidator, and due to his unfortunate death, we have seen a lot of the new safety measures come about. Even without his seven championships, I believe we would still look at Earnhardt in the same light. When we see even a current driver who drives aggressively, you tend to hear “Reminds me of the Intimidator.” Earnhardt made his mark on the track, not just with his career trophy case.
Another example could be Junior Johnson, who embodies what NASCAR is all about. Johnson never won a championship and only had 50 career wins. But Johnson is NASCAR: He grew up on a farm and, like many of the pioneers of stock car racing, developed his driving skills running moonshine as a young man. Subsequently, in 1956 Johnson was arrested and served 11 months of a two-year sentence for moonshining.
Moonshining is what brought the pioneers to the sport. They would tweak their cars to outrun the law. NASCAR was their outlet to do their nighttime jobs during the day and see who really had the fastest car of all. When Johnson retired, he was the winningest driver never to have won a championship.
So, do wins and championships make you the best? Or, is being the best something you have to earn over time?
Could Jimmie Johnson be the best? Yes, with his record, who would question it?
But is it his time to be labeled as NASCAR’s best driver ever?