THE BEST THERE EVER WAS…
The sports trivia question this morning, the morning after the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead, Florida, a question most of you can’t answer, is, “Who won the race?”.
I’ll get right to the answer, Denny Hamlin, the last time you’ll hear the name here this morning. I can’t fault you for not knowing, because this morning in NASCAR circles it’s all about the guy who finished ninth and never really contended, Jimmy Johnson.
Johnson awoke yesterday morning with a peaceful, easy feeling. He had a leisurely breakfast with the fam and went to work, which is pretty much his approach to his job. Businesslike. All he had to do at Homestead yesterday was finish 23rd or better to sew up his sixth Sprint Cup championship. It’s hard to put it that way, “All he had to do”, because all he did all season long was put himself in that position, where, unless disaster struck and his car was towed from the track, no one could catch him on the final week.
All Jimmy had to do was the usual workaday stuff. Get to the track, a little meet and greet with the sponsors, the drivers meeting with NASCAR and track officials, a last minute go over with his crew, then slide behind the wheel for a pleasant Sunday drive. If it sounds easy, that’s the way Jimmy Johnson makes it look. You have to go back to the Yankees of the 20’s and late 40’s and early 50’s to find a comparable dynasty to the one Jimmy Johnson and his team have built in NASCAR. Johnson’s six season championships is second to the seven each held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. The comparisons end there.
Petty is undeniably “The King”. He took stock car racing from the good ol’ boy sport born of the post World War I days of moonshine runners to the pop culture phenomenon that draws more fans to a single venue on a weekly basis than most other, more mainstream American sports. Petty had a flair that curried favor with the common man as he was winning north of 200 races, complete with the cowboy hat with the feathered accoutrement, creating a legacy way too heavy for poor Kyle to carry around the speed oval.
Earnhardt was a bulldog, a fearless pedal pusher who found the smallest openings and burst through them, leaving fear and awe in the hearts of the other drivers as he blew past them.
They had their eras and they owned them, but NASCAR has never been more competitive than it is now and no driver has so dominated an era as Jimmy Johnson, who’s six season championships have come in an eight year period. It’s just another day at the track every time Johnson turns the oval in first place, against some of the most formidable competition of all time, Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and that other Earnhardt.
It’s not always about the numbers, even if it were to stop here, Jimmy one shy of “The King” and Dale Sr. The final analysis isn’t always about reading the figures. Ted Williams didn’t have the highest lifetime batting average and he didn’t hit the most home runs, he just happened to be the greatest hitter who ever lived.
Jimmy Johnson can now lay claim to that title on the NASCAR circuit. To quote the line from The Natural, “The best there is now, the best there ever was”, and it will take a monumental effort as NASCAR moves forward for anyone to keep Jimmy Johnson from being “The best there ever will be.”
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.