Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and their entire team on being four straight ten race chase champions! I?ll give them that. They got the job done when they needed to, but I still can?t convince myself that it was history in the making. It?s incomparable to the feats that Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, and Jeff Gordon have accomplished and besides being on paper I don?t see it as something better than any of them have done.
I have to admit that I am a ?classic? points fan, but before anyone forms a rebuttal saying that they would have raced differently if there wasn?t a chase, ?classic? points are different from when Richard Petty won some of his championships before 1975, etc., they have to realize that I am looking at the overall season statistics and what the outcome may or may not have been.
Saying that the drivers would have raced differently does have some accuracy. 2008 and 2004 done the ?classic? way could have had a different outcome due to the close points race. However, 2007 is where this point is flawed. No matter how you crunch the numbers, in any other system that rewards consistency Jeff Gordon would have been the champion. Not since 1990, did a driver with as good of an average finish as him fail to win the championship AND have a better average finish than the champion. That was Mark Martin, and the reason he was second in points is because his team incurred a 46 point penalty following the spring Richmond race. The final difference in the championship was 26 points. One thing I have to add regarding Mark Martin is that if after he and his current Hendrick teammates retire, and Jimmie Johnson and/or Jeff Gordon are inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame before he is then I will refuse to visit that place for the rest of my life. There is no better driver representative for NASCAR, a sponsor, and fans today than Mark Martin and while he has or may never achieve a championship I think those aspects alone make him a true NASCAR Hall of Famer once he is eligible.
The Richard Petty different points system theory is debatable for two of his championships. Based on my rough calculations, he still would have edged his closest competitors for the championship though (Cale Yarborough in 1974, Bobby Allison in 1972). However, for his other three championships prior to 1975 there is no doubt in my mind he would still have been champion in almost any points system. Also, with the ?classic? point system Petty would have been a contender for the championship in 1973, 1968, and 1963 so clearly he could be a seven (or more) time champion no matter what system is used to calculate points. I consider Jimmie Johnson at best a three time champion, which is still great and a notch above Tony Stewart (he pretty much has two fair and square) and a notch below Jeff Gordon who I believe at worst has five (or maybe six) championships.
What are historic are the team combination aspects. Maybe only twice has a driver and crew chief combination been successful for so long besides Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus: Richard Petty/Dale Inman and Dale Earnhardt/Kirk Shelmerdine. Jeff Gordon/Ray Evernham I actually put below the Johnson/Knaus combination since they weren?t together for as long.
The team itself Hendrick Motorsports, has performed historic proportions never seen before in NASCAR. For the past decade and a half, no matter how it?s calculated, the team has racked up nearly two-thirds of the championships. That has never been done in such a vast amount time, although some may argue that back in the day there weren?t multi-car operations like todays. It still goes to show that no other team today can seem to win championships and back it up year in and year out.
One other thing that I believe is historic is the driver to driver relationship. While Jeff Gordon tends to downplay the fact that he?s mentored Jimmie Johnson somewhat, the fact is it?s still a fact! Gordon was integral in choosing Johnson as a driver and while some say Johnson doesn?t deserve the ride I believe he paid his dues at least more than many other drivers currently in the series. Johnson raced for two years in the American Stock Association which was an excellent proving ground, and he and his ASA team together moved into the NASCAR Nationwide (Busch) Series. While their success was marginal it showed that Johnson could perform with a startup team in a series, which in a way was what the #48 team was their first year. I would consider Jeff Gordon the legend here, because I have never seen a former NASCAR champion have so much impact on a driver and have it result in championships. Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett might be the closest to those criteria, but Ned didn?t really play a major part in Jarrett being with the Yates Racing team. Many are similar but didn?t result in championships on one end or the other (Junior Johnson never won a championship but helped Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip win multiple). Other father-son/mentor-protégé combinations may have worked out well, but never resulted in Cup Series championships on both sides (Earnhardt/Earnhardt Jr., Richard/Kyle Petty, David/Larry Pearson, Richard Childress/Dale Earnhardt, Benny Parsons/Greg Biffle).
To sum things up, I believe Jimmie Johnson and the entire team is the best out there right now, but I still need to give it time before I call them historic or legendary. We?ll see what happens over the next decade and maybe I?ll change my mind. As far as the chase goes, it is what it is. People can keep suggesting methods in which some of them seem very good on paper, but there always seems to be some sort of flaw. I'll believe what I believe, and everyone else can believe what they want to believe.
As for the 2009 season as a whole, it was one of my least favorite seasons since I started watching in 1988. It was the first time where I watched Talladega and was rather disappointed. The first time I have completely lost interest in traveling to Talladega to see a race there. The first time I wished my favorite driver would just retire already so I didn?t have to watch anymore. The first time that I couldn?t stand watching pretty much all of the races on TV (from Digger to the mentioning of Jimmie Johnson every five seconds). Maybe I?ll just listen to them all on MRN next year. Time will tell if I gain/lose interest in NASCAR from now forward.
I'll be back soon to discuss my plans for races I'll be attending for the 2010 season.
One more non-NASCAR Sprint Cup Series related thing: for anyone looking forward to the Snowball Derby race this Sunday I've uploaded the entire 1995 Snowball Derby which was broadcast live on Prime Network affiliates.