This post will look at what Jimmie Johnson is on course to achieve during the second decade of his career. I will explore some of the records Johnson may break, and what I believe he has to accomplish if he wants to build a credible case of being the best driver in Nascar history.
This post is assuming that he clinches his sixth championship on Sunday.
He will obviously have to surpass Petty and Earnhardt and win at least 8 championships, I personally think he needs 9 to compare to Senior's 7 'legitimate' championships. While I don't buy the he only wins the championship because of the chase argument, deciding the champion essentially over 10 races instead of 30 does devalue the achievement. It is further weakened by the same 10 tracks deciding the champion each year, where 2 types of track are dominant and gems such as Darlington, Bristol, Richmond and the road courses are left out. Like I already mentioned I think Johnson would have at least 4 championships under the traditional points system where you collect points over all 36 races. He has never finished lower than fifth using this format, this is an astonishing achievement and one I would rank well above his 10 chase appearances which just underlines his consistency.
I will quote Richard Petty who has more authority than me 'they ran good under the old system, they run good under this system and if they(Nascar) change it they will still run good'.
If Johnson were to stay with Knaus for another 5-7 years they could put up some amazing numbers. 20 seasons by 36 races, which the new tv deal of Fox 16 and NBC 20 races would indicate it will stay at this length for the duration of Johnson's career equates to 720 races. We can use Bobby Allison as a marker as he made 719 starts if I am not mistaken. If Johnson were to equal his first 10 years in the sport over the next decade he would achieve 448 top 10s in 720 starts, Bobby Allison in a less competitive era achieved 446 in 719 starts. Obviously Johnson has some advantages in that he has a stable team with Knaus and Malec, even his spotter has been with him for years, whereas Bobby ran for different owners and makes of car. Statistics don't tell the whole story, especially when making comparisons between different eras. Nowadays 16 top5s in 36 races will probably win you the championship whereas in the seventies 23 or 24 top5s in 30 races was required.
However, Johnson is on course to join the elite over the next 5-10 years. Even the most conservative projections put him at 250 top5s and 350 top10s, and he will likely add 40-60 in the former category and 70-100 in the latter.
The big one for me is not championships, but wins that will define Johnson's standing in the sport. Can he succeed where those that have gone before him have failed, can he reach the milestone of 100 wins. I would rank this achievement immediately above 8 or even 9 chase championships.
DW and Jeff Gordon were further ahead of Johnson at this stage in their careers and both faltered when they past 80 wins for different reasons. Johnson will probably need to up his win rate to achieve this target and match Pearson and Petty. I think he needs to hit double figures in one of the next two seasons before three figures is a realistic aim. 100 wins in today's climate would I believe be comparable with Petty's 200 wins from the sixties and seventies. If Johnson were to reach 100 wins then I would place him head of everyone bar Earnhardt and level with Petty.
Johnson needs to beat Earnhardt comprehensively in the statistical categories as Earnhardt achieved his success in the most competitive era in Nascar in terms of teams,drivers,owners and schedule (30 races on a variety of tracks including Rockingham and NW certainly beats 36 races at Kansas,Kentucky and Chicago).
Another statistic that Johnson needs to continue is his top 5 points finishes, 11 in 12 seasons is a testament to both him and Knaus, especially when most teams struggle to challenge for more than 2 years example Keselowski, Edwards. This statistic is closely linked to his 20 top10s a year. The record is 18 seasons held by Richard Petty. If Johnson were to get to say 16 seasons then that would be a pretty persuasive argument. Johnson has currently scored at least 2 wins a season every year. If he were to score a minimum of 2 wins a year (this is to negate a fluke plate win) for 18 seasons consecutively which is the record then that would be another string to his bow.
Johnson has diversified over the years as the 48 is a better team now than it was even 3 years ago. Johnson has developed a tendency to 'lose' races, but he is afforded this opportunity due to him being more dominant now that at the start of his reign. His first 11 chase wins he did not lead the most laps in any of them. Since 2008 his 13 chase wins he has lead the most laps in every single one of them. In his last 12 wins in general, he has led the most laps in 11 of them. The 48 team has also diversified, as he has not won two 1.5 races in a season since 2007, although he is still one of the top3 on the intermediates each year. While he is not as diverse as his mentor Gordon, he has won at least 3 races at 14 of the 18 venues he has won at. If he wins at the 5 remaining tracks on the schedule where he does not have a 'w' then he will have won at 23 of the 24 venues he has competed at. The only venue I see him having trouble winning at is Watkins Glen.
The guy is certainly not the greatest driver in history as of now,( I would personally rank him between 12 and 8) but if he were to have a similar second decade to his first then even with Knaus we will be able to dismiss him no more. He will indisputably be one of the greats of Nascar, but not for another 4 years at least.
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