Is Jimmie Johnson one of the greatest ever?

Jimmie Johnson put himself in the driver's seat for a sixth Sprint Cup with a win last weekend....

Jimmie Johnson put himself in the driver's seat for a sixth Sprint Cup with a win last weekend. (REUTERS)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 PM ET

A friend of mine asked this week when I was going to write that Jimmie Johnson was the greatest stock car racer in NASCAR history.

At first I thought it was way too soon to put the five-time champion in the same conversation as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, the two drivers who now share top billing in the land of hard top racers.

After his win in the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway this past Sunday that put Johnson on top of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship by two points over Brad Keselowski, maybe it is time to discuss where the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet stands among the greats.

It is my view Johnson is now the one to beat in this season’s Chase and, if he wins, it would give him six championships in the past seven years.

Petty and Earnhardt both have seven Sprint Cup championships, but both did that over a career that spanned 26 seasons in NASCAR’s top loop.

Johnson, on the other hand, has five championships in just 11 Cup seasons and is on the cusp of six.

The most interesting comparison, however, between Johnson and the two seven-time winners is age — as in how old Petty and Earnhardt were when they won their seventh Cup championship.

I looked it up — Petty was 42 and Earnhardt was 43.

Johnson is now 37 and if he wins this season it would give him six seasons in which to get to seven, or even more, championships.

It is also realistic to point out the seven Petty titles and his 200 Cup wins — however impressive — came in an era where competition was not nearly as tough as it is today.

There were races which Petty won where he lapped the field one or more times for many of his wins.

And Earnhardt’s early championships were also won when there were only a half dozen or so drivers capable of winning week in and week out.

Johnson, from the time he stepped into the No. 48

Chevrolet has had to face the deepest pool of NASCAR talent in any stock car racing era.

There is not the remotest of possibilities that Johnson could lap a field consisting of such drivers as Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth or a dozen other drivers who are capable of and have the cars to win on any given weekend.

There has never been a time in NASCAR where it is harder to win a single race, let alone a single championship.

To win five in a row the way Johnson has against the talent he has faced, is incrementally tougher than anything either Petty or Earnhardt had done.

Where Johnson fails to measure up to the two NASCAR icons, however, is in the personality department.

After all, one is called “The King” and the other is called “The Intimidator” for their feats of daring on race tracks across North America.

There are no such monikers for Johnson, and that is why he doesn’t get the same kind of adoration that goes to Petty and Earnhardt.

It doesn’t make him any less of a great champion however, just sort of a Clark Kent to their Superman.

FINISH LINES

Brad Keselowski’s sixth-place finish at Martinsville has to be considered good news for the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team. Keselowski lost top spot to Johnson, but stayed close enough to make it a good fight going into Texas Motor Speedway this week ... The shake up at Richard Childress Racing has started. Drew Blickensderfer is out as crew chief for Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet after he told RCR he was headed to Richard Petty Motorsports to take over pit duties for Marcos Ambrose and the No. 9 Ford. He’ll be replaced at RCR by Shane Wilson, at least for the time being. Fox Sports reports that Luke Lambert, Elliott Sadler’s crew chief in the Nationwide Series, will take over the No. 31 Chevrolet next season. It also means that Mike Ford is out at RPM after just one season with Ambrose.

KIMI SIGNS NEW DEAL WITH LOTUS F1

Kimi Raikkonen thought he was finished with Formula 1 racing after leaving Ferrari in 2009.

The former world champion tried his hand at World Rally racing and even NASCAR before jumping back to F-1 with Lotus Renault this past season where he fought for the championship against with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

With three races left on the 2012 calendar, however, the flying Finn has pretty much given up on a title run this season, but promises to be back next year after signing a new contract with Lotus.

He said he is looking forward to the remainder of this season and next season with the team.

“The drivers’ championship battle is pretty much gone for me (this season) I think,” Raikkonen said in a posting on the Lotus website.

There had been some question whether the laconic Raikkonen would be back for another round.

“This season has shown me that I still love racing as much as I ever did,” he said. “Obviously, I would have not come back to the sport if I did not feel like this. Driving a Formula 1 car still gives me the same inspiration and I feel the same passion for it.

“I think with the progress behind the scenes at Enstone (the Lotus shop) we could be fighting for the podium even more often next year and also be able to make a stronger challenge for the championship.”

DEAN’S RANT

No one should have been surprised at the resignation/firing of Randy Bernard by the IndyCar board of directors late last week.

This is the way they do business in North America’s top open wheel loop.

And this is why the IZOD IndyCar Series is pretty much a joke in racing circles around the world.

Bernard tried to take the sport kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but some insiders — board members, team owners and some drivers — didn’t like that.

I sometimes feel that there is a huge cadre of IndyCar folks who believe the sport is only there to support their giant egos.

They look down their noses at NASCAR while that series soars to the top among the only people who truly matter — the fans.

Great events like the Indianapolis 500 and once-upon-a-time Toronto Indy have already suffered near irreparable harm under a succession of bad management teams in open wheel racing, but looked to be recovering under Bernard.

IndyCar team owner Roger Penske, a rare sane voice in the sport, said it best when he told the Associated Press: “I’m very disappointed in this decision; the board continues to show poor judgment. There is no future plan.

“No business can run with a senior management change every two years.”

SWISS MISS TEAMS UP WITH KANAAN AT KVRT

Swiss IndyCar driver Simona De Silvestro has signed a deal to replace Rubens Barrichello at KV Racing Technology next season as a teammate for Tony Kanaan.

A big part in the decision was De Silvestro’s lucrative sponsorship deal with Nuclear Clean Air Energy which will follow her to KVRT.

De Silvestro ran last season with HVM Racing.

“I’m really excited to be joining KV Racing Technology,” De Silvestro said. “I think it’s going to be great having Tony as a teammate. It’s never easy to make a change like this, but I’m confident that it’s the right move for me going forward.”


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