By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Jimmie Johnson chased history Sunday night, and won. In a stunning finish to the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Johnson survived a late race ten-car pileup and two restarts to win the race and the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. In doing so, he earned his seventh championship in NASCAR's premier series, tying him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt on the all-time win list. It was also Johnson's 80th career win, the most among active drivers.
It is difficult to put Johnson's achievement into words. He not only tied two of NASCAR's greatest stars (and Hall-of-Famers) in Petty and Earnhardt, he won his seventh championship over just eleven seasons. This is what Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say after the race: "It is incredible what Jimmie's been able to do in this sport in such a short period of time. That's seven championships in 11 years. I think he's one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen, maybe the best. He's been in that conversation for many years and this really closes the book on any doubts that anybody had where he ranks. He's in that discussion with my father and Richard and I'm glad I was a witness to it. I told Jimmie, I wish Dad were here to shake his hand. He would certainly love the type of driver he is, I know that for sure."
Johnson was overwhelmed after the race. “Just beyond words,” said Johnson, who also won NASCAR championships in 2006-10 and 2013. “Just didn't think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs. Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship. So thrilled to be in this moment, so grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”
I know in this age of political correctness that it's just not proper etiquette to compare champions in different eras in sports. But Jimmie Johnson has flat dominated in a time that was so much tougher than previous eras in NASCAR in terms of the quality and intensity of the competition, the brutal 36-weekend death march of a schedule, the constant demands of sponsors and other requirements etc., that his achievement is even more incredible.
There is no question in my mind that Jimmie Johnson is the greatest driver of all time in the history of the sport of stock car racing.
It's not often that you get to see history being made, but Johnson's triumph on Sunday was one of those defining moments that was deeply satisfying and memorable. Congratulations to Jimmie and his brilliant crew chief, Chad Knaus - who is destined to be a Hall-of-Famer in his own right - Rick Hendrick and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization and to everyone at GM and Chevrolet.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Johnson's championship moment on Sunday night.
A memorable night for Jimmie.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jimmie Johnson - the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and seven-time NASCAR Champion.
Jimmie Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammates euphoric in victory.
Jimmie, Chandra and Lydia in Victory Lane.
Jimmie gets iced.
Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. The greatest of all time and the greatest duo of all time in NASCAR history.
Editor's Note: Many of you have seen Peter's references over the years to the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (HERF), which he launched in 2007. For those of you who weren't following AE at the time, you can read two of HERF's press releases here and here. And for even more details (including a link to Peter's announcement speech), check out the HERF entry on Wikipedia here. -WG
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Daytona Beach, Florida, 1968. The great David Pearson before that year's Daytona 500. The "Silver Fox" was one of NASCAR's most dominant drivers and is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Each year he ran the full schedule in NASCAR's then Grand National Series he won the championship (1966, 1968, 1969). Even when Pearson didn't run the full schedule his dominance was evident - in 1974 he finished third in the championship after running just 19 of the 30 races. Pearson won 105 races in NASCAR's premier division along with 113 pole positions. Richard Petty on his chief rival: "Pearson could beat you on a short track, he could beat you on a superspeedway, he could beat you on a road course, he could beat you on a dirt track. It didn't hurt as bad to lose to Pearson as it did to some of the others, because I knew how good he was."