SPEED.com has selected NASCAR’s top 10 drivers – across the three major national series – in 2010 and will spotlight them for two weeks. Today: Driver No. 1 – Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Can anybody else play this game?
We are left to wonder after five seasons of Jimmie Johnson pounding the competition into the turf and emerging at season’s end with the Sprint Cup trophy firmly in his grasp.
No other driver has won five straight championships. No other driver has won four straight titles. In fact, only one other driver, Cale Yarborough, has won three straight.
Johnson, clearly, is riding in a coach by himself at the front of the NASCAR parade. He has repelled every challenge over the past five seasons, even coming from behind on the final day of the season this year to win “one for the thumb.”
Now Johnson has five Sprint Cups. Well, actually, he physically has only one. The other four are on display, side-by-side, in a glass-enclosed case at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where officials thought it would be historic for fans to see so many identical trophies in one spot. Think some history was involved there? Now it’s time to add one more.
One of the remarkable things about Johnson’s 2010 championship season is that it wasn’t one of his best years. He won six times, true, but the team had problems sporadically through the year, and the gremlins really stepped to the forefront with three races left in the season as poor performance by the No. 48 pit crew caused crew chief Chad Knaus to bring in Jeff Gordon’s crew as substitutes.
Denny Hamlin appeared poised to claim his first championship, but Johnson turned in a final-race run at Homestead-Miami Speedway that was classic Johnson. He was not to be denied, overcoming Hamlin’s 15-point pre-race edge and winning his fifth title by a comfortable 39 points.
Now all the talk is about the possibility of the “Six-Pack”. Six in a row? Possible. Heck, it might be probable.
“I want to believe, and I do feel in my heart, that we’ll have a shot next year, but I don’t know what those challenges are going to be, how competitive we’ll be, what the competition’s going to look like,” Johnson said. “It’s really hard to look that far ahead. I feel like I have my best chances at Hendrick Motorsports, with Chad Knaus as my crew chief.”
And seven? To tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships ever? And more?
“If I can seam together seven in any shape or form to tie those two greats, I would be extremely honored,” Johnson said. “If I was ever able to surpass them, it would be out of this world.”
It seems like he’s already there.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.