As Jimmie Johnson is poised to score his third straight Sprint Cup, the question has to be asked.
How good is Jimmie Johnson?
Only Cale Yarborough has won three championships in a row, and that was under the old point system. It was also back when the competition was not nearly as tight as it is in today's NASCAR. Yarborough won the last of those three championships in 1978.
So where will this third championship place Jimmie Johnson among NASCAR greats?
One would think pretty high. When you do something that Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon have never done, you know you have accomplished something.
Another question comes to mind when considering Johnson's greatness: is a championship under the new system easier to win than under the old?
Since the chase was introduced, most people would probably say that the chase is a lot tougher. You have only 10 races to win a championship, and you can't afford a bad run.
Under the old system, you had the whole season and once you built up a lead you could afford a bad run here or there. It was more forgiving than the chase format.
Kyle Bush is perhaps the best example of the difference between the two.
Bush absolutely dominated the first two-thirds of the season. He registered eight wins and showed that he could win on any type of track. However, come chase time, where is Kyle Bush? He is in last place among the chasers, 465 points behind Johnson. Bush had some tough luck early in the chase and it took him out of it by race four.
Jimmie Johnson has come a long way in his time in NASCAR. Before he won his first championship, he was one of those guys who would lead the points all season long, but couldn't hold on until the end. His team peaked at the wrong time. After a few years of this, Johnson finally scored his first championship.
So how is Jimmie Johnson known now?
As the guy who turns it on when all the chips are on the table.
Johnson's team has figured out how to peak at the right time. It also helps that they have tremendous confidence in each other. They know that they can win races and do what it takes to win a championship.
Sunday's race at Atlanta showcased the greatness of Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus.
With less than 10 laps remaining, Johnson surrendered eighth place to come in and take tires. He came out 11th and drove home to a second place finish.
When Carl Edwards was told that Johnson came back to finish 2nd he couldn't believe it. It totally changed his demeanor in victory lane. It was as if he could not escape Johnson's greatness. Edwards won the race, but Johnson stole the show.
The chase is still relatively new. Whether or not it is easier or harder than the old format is not easily determined. What can be determined is that Jimmie Johnson is about to put his name up permanently with the greats of NASCAR.