Johnson's legacy belongs with Petty's, Earnhardt's

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:39 PM ET

History can be a funny thing, especially when it comes to professional sports.

Sometimes when acts of greatness take place before your very eyes it is difficult to put them into historical perspective at that exact moment.

Like the New York Islanders of 1979-1982. At the time of that team’s record four consecutive Stanley Cups, many in hockey never gave it the same respect as other dynasties before them — like the Montreal Canadiens team of 1970s or the Toronto Maple Leafs of 1960s.

I think the same thing is happening with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet’s five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.

When it was broached on Sunday night that Johnson now belonged in the same category as “the King” Richard Petty and “the Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt, immediately the chroniclers of NASCAR history brought up the fact that both Petty and Earnhardt had seven Cup titles in their respective resumes.

True, but neither Petty nor Earnhardt had came close to five in a row.

And remember Johnson is still in his peak racing years at only 35 years old. Earnhardt won his final five championships after he hit 35.

And Petty won his last four titles after he turned 35.

Johnson himself, however, feels it is fair to compare his record to date with giants like Petty and Earnhardt, and said as much in the question-and-answer session with the media at Homestead Miami Speedway in the wake of his championship.

“From my side, I guess I haven’t thought much about where we are in looking up at what Petty and Earnhardt have done,” he said. “I mean, absolutely, I would love to tie them. I would love to surpass them. I don’t know how realistic that is. I mean, I never thought that I would get to this point.”

But one person who was at the track when Earnhardt was making magic in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and who saw Petty in his latter years, has no fear of favourably comparing Johnson to those two iconic figures.

Rick Hendrick, Johnson’s team owner, said at Homestead that while he has tons of respect for all the great drivers in the NASCAR history books, Johnson deserves to be right up there with them.

“I just think — and no disrespect to any of our elders or whatever you want to call them, the guys that raced back in the day, the Earnhardts, the Waltrips, the Pearsons, the guys like that,” Hendrick said. “You hear a lot of what they say about the tenacity of those drivers and how aggressive they were and how they could do things with the race car that nobody else could do.

“I think if you really sat back and looked at what (Johnson) can do with a race car, you would be pretty impressed.”

The thing that is real scary good about Johnson is that he is far from close to being done with the record book.

He said on Sunday that the celebration of that fifth crown is only a momentary thing and the work for a sixth championship will start soon.

“The truth of the matter, we are going to be back next year and hopefully be in the same situation and the (record) book will be wide open,” he said, “So we’ll enjoy five for the off season and come back and start working on six next year. We are a hell of a lot closer now than we were before the day started. But absolutely. I’m now looking at those marks that the greats have put out there and hopeful to get up there to them.”

Let the re-writing of history begin.


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