|Five-Time – Jimmie Johnson|
With the 2011 Race in Homestead the championship crown is passed along to a new champion and the Jimmie Johnson, era comes to a close. As fans are celebrating with a new champion in Victory Lane, the passing of this era will most likely go by, barely noticed by most. The new champion and everyone associated with his team, will celebrate well into the next day. While Jimmie Johnson for the first time in five years will perhaps offer his congratulations and the quietly walk off into the evening with his family. Many fans will one day look back at this moment in NASCAR history and realize the full impact of the five years preceding this year’s championship run. All good things eventually come to an end and while in the short term fans are happy to greet a new champion this season, in the long run, many of us will recall these past five-years as a magical time in NASCAR history. And what we witnessed during this time will most likely not be matched again, within our lifetimes.
|The King – Richard Petty|
To fully appreciate Jimmie Johnson’s accomplishments, a review of the history preceding him is almost shockingly revealing. Consider the driver fans call “The King,” Richard Petty. As a living legend, he drove in another era a total of 1,185 races. Within that period, Petty won an amazing seven championships over a career spanning thirty-five years. However, he never exceeded two consecutive championships at any point in his career.
The same is true for another NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt, with 677 races in his career spanning a total 27 years. Although he matches Petty’s seven championships in fewer years and fewer races, similar to Petty, he never achieved more than two consecutive championships. The only driver, prior to Johnson, to exceed two consecutive championships is Cale Yarborough with three from 1976 through 1978. Yarborough ran 560 races over his career of 31 years. These drivers’ accomplishments are amazing each in their own right. No other driver in NASCAR history has exceeded these accomplishments until Jimmie Johnson.
Consider for just a moment, Jimmie Johnson’s career spans a total of just ten years. Ten years represent just twenty-nine to thirty-seven percent of Petty’s, Yarborough’s and Earnhardt’s independent careers. Jimmie Johnson’s 360 Sprint Cup races from 2001-2011, represent 30 percent of Petty’s total races, 53 percent of Earnhardt’s and 64 percent of Yarborough’s. In 2009, Jimmie Johnson made history when he became the first NASCAR driver to ever win four-consecutive championships within his then, eight year career. Incredibly, Johnson then topped that achievement in 2010, by winning his fifth consecutive championship series trophy within a mere nine year period.
In NASCAR’s sixty-three year history, Jimmie Johnson stands alone as the only driver to represent the sport as a champion, five consecutive years. The only driver to hoist the championship trophy half the years of his now ten year career. Johnson may have many more years of racing in his future. No one knows what new racing accomplishments will come. But, over the years, fans and drivers alike, will speak of a time when a driver, named Jimmie Johnson came into the sport and brought a new level of achievement to racing. As a proven winner and champion, Jimmie Johnson has represented our favorite sport with class and dignity that can bring a sense of pride to all fans as we have now been a witness to NASCAR history in the making.
And while we are now happy for a new champion to win the trophy in 2011, it is also important that we honor and respect the legendary champion we have in Jimmie Johnson, as his accomplishments will be what all racing champions of the future will strive to exceed for many more years to come.