To have a number define one’s career is hard to comprehend, especially in NASCAR. This sport is filled with so many numbers, whether it’s the cars, starting position, or simply statistics. To have one number define a legacy, a career, it’s hard to fathom.
Normally, that defining number is the one on the car. But it’s not often that one number connects multiple drivers.
In NASCAR, one number can link two of the all-time greats.
That number defines two of the first inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s the number of championships each won in their incredible careers. It first came from the man who rightfully earned the name of “The King.” It was Richard Petty who first won a title in 1964, then again in 1967. He went back-to-back in ’71-72, then again in ’74-75. That final title came in 1979, and at that time it was thought no one would come close to matching.
It took 15 years before someone would also enter that elite group.
A young man, who turned out to be an intimidating figure when on the track, pulled off the feat. His name…Dale Earnhardt.
It started in 1980, one year after winning rookie honors. It wouldn’t be until 1986 when title #2 came about, and a year later the third was achieved. Then it was 1990 when the fourth came calling, and a year later the fifth. It was 1993 when the sixth trophy went on display, and a year later…seven.
Two drivers that set the mark no one felt was touchable. Could someone try and match this feat? If possible, who exactly was the man to do it?
Seven. Can it happen again?
In 2002, a young man named Jimmie Johnson, with the assistance of a professional and knowledgeable driver named Jeff Gordon, entered Cup competition. He never got to race Earnhardt, who’s untimely death a year earlier still leaves a void to never be filled. Four years later, the No. 48 team earned the first title.
A year later, a second. A year later, history…three straight titles, matching Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough in consecutive titles won. Then 2009, his own book began to be written, as Johnson took a fourth-straight title. A year later, the “Five Time” nickname became reality.
Talk of seven titles suddenly began creeping in. Is it possible that the benchmark no one thought was capable…actually can be?
It was 2013 when the sixth title came home, meaning the quest for the record began the following year. Can he…will he…is this truly happening?
Then came this year, Johnson’s first time making it into the final round of the new Chase Grid that started in 2014. Points meant nothing at this moment, it was simply beating three other competitors to the line to win a title. All race long it seemed as if that thought of seven titles was realistic. This track is not one of Johnson’s best, because for so long he didn’t have to race it hard, as his titles for the most part were already secured.
Now, with everything on the line, the title had to be earned without any hesitation.
Seven. That number still was within reach, but needed some help, and some luck.
It came. One of his contenders wrecked out when another contender ducked low to pass, and it cost both of them. Now, the possibility became a real opportunity. One restart, one chance…one victory.
Johnson got the lead with three laps remaining, and held on to somehow get the win, and more importantly earn a spot alongside two greats in this sport.
It’s no longer a fantasy. That number is no longer one that is saved for just two drivers. Now, a modern era Superman, appropriate since he wore those colors earlier this season, stands back on top of the racing world. He has earned the right to be called champion once again, and quite possibly the greatest driver in this modern era. And to think, his career is far from over.
The question now is no longer if seven championships are possible again. It’s for real, it is here.
Now, a new question can be asked. Can he win eight? Or nine? Or more?
For now, Johnson’s favorite number is no longer 48, the lone number he’s raced in Cup competition. Instead, his favorite number is seven. He has done something that no one in the garage, in the media center, watching at home nor watching in the grandstands thought was possible ever again.
Jimmie Johnson…SEVEN-TIME champion. Congratulations.
Next week, a final wrap-up of the 2016 season, looking back on the key moments to define the year.
RESULTS: 1-Johnson 2-Larson 3-Harvick 4-Logano 5-McMurray 6-Kyle Busch 7-Kenseth 8-Allmendinger 9-Hamlin 10-McDowell
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Elliott 14-Kurt Busch 22-Stewart 34-Edwards 35-Keselowski 36-Truex Jr.
CAUTIONS: 7 for 33 laps. Lap 28-31 (#21 Accident-T4); 81-85 (#83 Spin-T4); 172-178 (Debris-T1); 208-212 (#21 Accident-T1);
253-257 (#32 Accident-T2); 259-262 (#19, 22, 78, 2, 31, 5, 95, 24, 7 Accident-T1 [Red Flag 31 Mins, 9 Secs.]); 264-266 (#17 Accident-T2).
LEAD CHANGES: 20 among 6 drivers. K. Harvick 1-31; C. Edwards 32-34; K. Harvick 35-67; C. Edwards 68-70; K. Harvick 71-85; J. Logano 86-91; C. Edwards
92-117; K. Larson 118-121; C. Edwards 122-125; K. Larson 126-135; C. Edwards 136-143; K. Larson 144-154; C. Edwards 155; K. Larson 156-172; C. Edwards 173; K. Larson 174-208; C. Edwards 209; K. Larson 210-253; K. Busch 254; K. Larson 255-265; J. Johnson 266-268.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 7 Mins, 10 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 128.869 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.466 Seconds
CHASE GRID: 1. Johnson, 5040 (points); 2. Logano, -3; 3. Kyle Busch, -5; 4. Edwards, -33; 5. Kenseth, -2710; 6. Hamlin, -2720; 7. Kurt Busch, -2744; 8. Harvick, -2751; 9. Larson, -2752; 10. Elliott, -2755; 11. Truex Jr, -2769; 12. Keselowski, -2773; 13. McMurray, -2809; 14. Dillon, -2817; 15. Stewart, -2829; 16. Buescher, -2871.