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Johnson ranks among the best

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jimmie Johnson has not only placed himself among the greatest drivers in NASCAR, but has also joined an elite class of competitors who are the best ever in motorsports.

Johnson accomplished something that no other driver has done in the 61-year history of NASCAR's top-tier series when he clinched his fourth straight championship with a fifth-place finish in Sunday's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He ended the season 141 points ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin, who finished second in points for the fifth time in his career.

"It is unbelievable, four championships in eight years," Johnson said. "Everything this team has done is truly amazing. I know that the fans and everybody respects what this race team has done. I can't wait [to see] where this race team ends up. We've got a lot of racing ahead of us. I know that we are solidly in the record books. But I know we have a lot more to accomplish."

Jimmie Johnson clinched his fourth straight championship.
Johnson joined Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon as those drivers who have won four or more Cup championships. Petty and Earnhardt share the record with four, while Gordon, who also is a teammate of Johnson's, has four.

"I never thought I'd see anybody win four in a row," Gordon said, "And who's to say they won't go win five in a row next season? We're really proud of them. I know as a member of Hendrick Motorsports it's an honor to see our organization excel like that."

Johnson's championships have come under the guidance and hard work of Chad Knaus, who joined Kirk Shelmerdine and Dale Inman as those crew chiefs who have won four or more titles. While Johnson has already extended his contract with Hendrick to drive the No.48 car for the next five years, Knaus is expected to renew his contract with the team in the near future.

"Jimmie is an incredible talent," Knaus said. "He is the most underrated driver in this garage from a perspective of media recognition. I mean that guy can do things with a race car that I've never seen done before. I hope this proves this to everybody."

Johnson's fourth straight NASCAR title can be compared to other sports greats such as Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Lance Armstrong, each of whom have accomplished similar feats in their respective sports.

He also moved into the realm of championship legends such as Formula One stars Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio, as well as National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) great John Force.

Schumacher, the seven-time F1 world champion from Germany, arguably is the world's best race car driver ever. He won five straight titles from 2000-04.

Fangio captured four-consecutive F1 titles from 1954-57.

Force won an unprecedented 14 championships from 1990-2006, including 10 straight titles (1993-2002).

Heading into next season, a lot of hype will surround Johnson's opportunity to make it five in a row. But is Johnson confident that will happen?

"I don't know if we'll win another championship," he said. "I have no idea what next year will bring and what the challenges will bring as the years go by. There's just no guarantees on that. I feel in my heart we'll be competitive, but at some point in time, we won't be that team. We're going to do everything we can to make sure we are that team. But you just never know what the future holds."

Whether or not he succeeds in his "drive for five" next year, Johnson already has etched his name among the greats in motorsports.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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