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The Jimmie Johnson Era.

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2009-01-17 05:07:14     
Article by Jeremy Dunn

As Jimmie Johnson closes in on his third consecutive Sprint Cup championship, it is time for all fans, and that includes haters of the 48, to concede that we are smack dab in the middle of the Jimmie Johnson era.

Some fans will argue that Johnson's success is due to superlative equipment supplied by Hendrick Motorsports. However, he consistently outperforms all of his teammates, including the four-time champion and future Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. Others will bemoan his achievements due to his personality, or lack thereof. To the majority of fans, especially traditional fans, he is considered vanilla, or bland.

However, you cannot argue with success. Johnson entered NASCAR's highest level of competition in 2002 as Jeff Gordon's protégé. Prior to his rookie campaign, he was an also-ran journeyman in the Nationwide (Busch) Series. Gordon, Rick Hendrick, and the powers that be at Lowe's Improvement believed in the 26-year-old aspiring NASCAR star.

His rookie season was a pleasant surprise, as he won three races and finished fifth in the final championship standings. He failed to win the Rookie of the Year honors, as that accolade went to Johnson's rookie counterpart, Ryan Newman. In 2003, Newman again outshined Johnson, as Newman won eight races compared to Johnson's three. Newman won multiple Driver of the Year awards. Johnson finished second in the Sprint Cup standings to Matt Kenseth, however.

In 2004, Johnson won eight races, and finished eight points behind the eventual champion Kurt Busch. Johnson was emerging as one of NASCAR's elite drivers. He failed to capture the championship again in 2005, as it was Tony Stewart's year to shine. In 2006, Johnson and the 48 crew finally earned the opportunity to sit at the head table, as they were crowned champions. Johnson won five races and edged out Matt Kenseth by 56 points for the ultimate prize.

In 2007, Johnson won four of the final ten races, all consecutively, and handily beat Jeff Gordon for the championship by 77 points. He won ten races total, the first time anybody had reached double digits since Gordon in 1998. He was the unambiguous favorite to win the Sprint Cup title as the 2008 season commenced.

After the season began, Johnson seemed to struggle at times, especially the intermediate tracks such as Las Vegas and Atlanta. Meanwhile, young hotshots, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards dominated the first twenty-six races, as they combined for 14 wins. While Johnson was running well, he was an afterthought. That all changed once the Chase for the Championship began. Johnson pieced together a remarkable run of consistency, with his worst finish being 15th at Texas. He won races at Kansas, Martinsville, and Phoenix, and owns nearly an insurmountable lead of 141 points over Edwards heading into the season finale at Homestead. In fact, a 36th place finish would be the clincher.

For fans of Johnson, as well as fans who appreciate greatness, this is an exciting time in NASCAR. This is comparable to the New York Yankees in the 1950's, Green Bay Packers in the 1960's, or even the Chicago Bulls of the 1990's. However, Johnson has far more detractors than supporters, so his run at history does not magnetize much fanfare.

Fans, we have read about the Lee Petty era. Some of us were fortunate enough to witness the Richard Petty dominance, and even the Cale Yarborough three-peat. We are all aware of the Darrell Waltrip and Junior Johnson dynasty in the early 1980's,which was a precursor to the decade-long Dale Earnhardt ascendancy that included six of his seven championships.Along came Jeff Gordon, a young interloper from California who seized the torch from the great Earnhardt, and proceeded to score four championships in seven years. Tony Stewart enjoyed some bright spots, with titles in 2002 and 2005, but he is not the driver people will point to when they discuss the driver of the decade. That driver is Jimmie Johnson.

When the NASCAR preview publications are released in January of 2009, do not be surprised if Jimmie Johnson is projected to capture a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship.

Specialized in: Sports - Or Auto Racing - Or Nascar - Or Racing
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