Johnson, No.48 team the next dynasty in professional sports
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
After capturing his third-consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jimmie Johnson and his No.48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet crew have not only established themselves as one of the greatest teams in NASCAR, but as the latest in a string of professional sports dynasties.
Johnson finished 15th in the season-ending Ford 400, and clinched his third title in a row, finishing the season 69 points ahead of Carl Edwards, who won at Homestead for his series-leading ninth victory of the year. Johnson became just the second driver in NASCAR's 60-year history to win three straight titles, matching Cale Yarborough's 30-year-old record.
"Right now we've been fortunate to win three," Johnson said. "So over the off season I'm going to be drooling about a fourth. It's not really where I fall into the books. It's more about what I want to be as a champion."
Johnson ended the year with seven victories and 22 top-10 finishes, but his season started off sluggish as he held the ninth position in points after finishing a season-worst 39th in the May 25th Coca-Cola 600 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway. His turnaround began in July when he survived the "tire debacle" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to win the Allstate 400. He won the final two races of the regular season, California and Richmond, to start the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" as the third seed.
Kyle Busch entered the Chase atop the standings and was one of the favorites to win the title after scoring eight victories for the season. But Busch quickly fell out of contention when he finished 34th at New Hampshire and then 43rd at Dover.
Jimmie Johnson became just the second driver in NASCAR's 60-year history to win three straight titles.
Johnson won at Kansas, the third race in the Chase, grabbing the points lead for the first time this season. After Edwards wrecked at Talladega and suffered mechanical problems at Charlotte, resulting in poor finishes at both tracks, Johnson was well ahead in the standings.
Edwards won three of the last four races, but came up short of spoiling Johnson's record-tying feat.
Johnson's championships have come under the guidance and hard work of pit boss extraordinaire Chad Knaus, who became the first crew chief in NASCAR's premier series to win three straight titles.
"I've been fortunate to work with really great race car drivers," Knaus said. "I worked with Jeff Gordon in the 24 car. I've seen what Jeff can do with a race car, and I've got a lot of respect for what Jeff can do."
Knaus has been Johnson's crew chief since 2002, but also served as a tire changer for Gordon and the original "Rainbow Warriors" pit crew when Gordon won his championships in 1995, '97 and '98.
"To be able to work with Jimmie, he's definitely brought it to a new level," he said. "But I'm also a lot more entwined than I was back then, with what's going on. In my eyes he's the best that there's been...People are going to say Richard Petty is, Dale Earnhardt and all those guys. But with the competition level the way it is today with what you've got to do working, racing day in and day out, no time to take time off, in my mind, (Jimmie) is the best."
Johnson's team joins the likes of other championship-winning greats in the U.S. this past decade such as the Los Angeles Lakers, winning three straight NBA Finals from 2000-02, and the New York Yankees, taking the World Series consecutively from 1998-2000.
Also, the championship achievements of Formula One legends Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as well as National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) great John Force have been engraved in motorsports history.
Schumacher, the seven-time F1 World Champion from Germany, is arguably the world's best race car driver ever. He won five straight titles from 2000-04, and holds the F1 record for most career victories with 91.
Affectionately known as "bandy legs" by his many fans, Fangio captured four- consecutive World Championships from 1954-57.
Force won an unprecedented 14 NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series championships from 1990-2006, including 10 straight titles (1993-2002). He holds the series record for most wins (126) and final rounds (202).
Now, Johnson will try to join those men in the four-plus titles category.
As Johnson and his team celebrated their third championship at the conclusion of Sunday's race at Homestead, one thing was already on their mind, winning a fourth title.
"I think from a driver's standpoint, I could go race again next week and start the season and go for four," Johnson said.
Perhaps no one on the team is more optimistic about making history in 2009 than Knaus.
"Yeah, we want four," Knaus said. "To get four championships in a row you have to get three. And we're fortunate to get three. If we buckle down and do what we need to do, we'll be in contention for our fourth championship next year. If that means I have to get up at eight o'clock tomorrow morning and go to work to do it, I'll do it."
If Johnson can win his fourth straight championship next year, it will certainly make for a strong argument that he is the best NASCAR driver of all time.