Jimmie Johnson Is Not a Great Driver...Just Sayin'

David YeazellSenior Analyst INovember 24, 2009

Every form of media has saturated the market for weeks now speculating Jimmie Johnson’s fourth title. His history making championship was all but secured when the checkered flag flew at Richmond International Raceway; it just took 10 weeks to make it official.

Now the media pundits have turned their focus and keyboards to a different hype, one that includes monikers like great and greatest.

While NASCAR is still an ongoing sport, it is impossible to establish who is, or was, the greatest driver.

Johnson is being compared to Earnhardt, Petty and Yarborough. These comparisons, while having some merit, are by far inconclusive and lack foundation.

Earnhardt and Petty’s seven championships are the most in NASCAR history at this time. But each driver accomplished these feats under very different, and albeit difficult circumstances.

Each championship was secured by running a full 36 race season under the direction of multiple crew chiefs and with different types of race cars.

Earnhardt’s championships were won with three different crew chiefs, two different owners and three different Chevrolet body designs (Impala, Monte Carlo and Lumina). Cale Yarborough won back to back titles, changed crew chiefs, and won his third in row.

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Johnson has won four consecutive championships by winning the best of 10 races four times. All four championships have been with the same crew chief, same car make, and, by being able to run a mediocre season of 26 races, only needing to remain inside the top 12 in points.

Once the best of ten starts, better known as the Chase, the sandbagging stops, Chad Knaus flips his magical switch that NASCAR cannot find, and Johnson drives away from the competition.

It wasn’t that long ago Jeff Gordon was touted as being the greatest driver. After securing his third championship with Ray Evernham, Gordon was also being compared to Petty, Yarborough and Earnhardt.

Since Evernham’s departure in 1999, Gordon has added just one championship trophy to his resume, and has spent the past eight years driving for five.

Johnson’s accomplishments might be the measuring stick, benchmark, or standard for this generation of racers, but even then, great or greatest should be reserved for those drivers who, unlike Johnson, have accomplishments in more than one racing discipline.

Jeff Gordon has championships in USAC, Sprint Cup, and Rookie of the Year honors in Nationwide and Sprint Cup. Tony Stewart has championships in IRL, Sprint Cup, and USAC. He was also Rookie of the Year in all three. Greg Biffle has championships and Rookie of the Year honors in Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series.

Jimmie Johnson is in fact re-writing the history books. While it is certain to be omitted, prudence demands that Chad Knaus’ history of fines and penalties be included in these re-writes.

Titles and descriptions using the words great and greatest should be reserved for multi-talented, multi-dimensional drivers, not a driver who, is at best, a single-dimensional achiever.  

Photo Credit: David Yeazell

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