Jimmie Johnson secured his place among the all-time greats in November when he won his seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship.
The others in that fraternity? Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
And Johnson isn’t done. Nobody would be surprised to see him win an eighth championship before he walks away.
“He’s completely not appreciated for what he’s accomplished. He’s awesome,” Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said. “He’s just awesome.”
More than an eighth championship, though, Johnson has an outside chance at 100 wins in the modern era (1972 to present).
Johnson, 41, could very well notch his 81st victory at the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, which begins at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at TMS. Johnson has taken the No. 48 Chevrolet to Victory Lane a TMS-record six times in Cup races, including wins in five of the last nine races.
“He’s a guy you always go, ‘Well, then, of course there’s Jimmie,’ when talking about favorites,” Gossage said. “Not only at this track, but every track. That’s one of the most amazing things about him. He’s just been so good everywhere.”
Johnson will reach 100 wins if he wins matches the next four seasons at the same pace he has won the past four years.
Jeff Gordon’s 93 victories are the closest to the century mark in the modern era. Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson(105) won only 60 and 45 in the modern era.
“I’ve been in this business for a long time and looking at getting to triple digits in wins is virtually impossible,” Gossage said. “It’s very hard to win races, but it’s entirely possible with Jimmie. He completely defies any of those standards because he’s just so incredible.”
It’s arguable that this is an even more difficult generation to do it in, too. Just look at the start to this season — the first five races produced five winners until Brad Keselowski won for the second time this season Sunday at Martinsville.
Another parity point is seeing powerhouse teams such as Hendrick Motorsports — Johnson’s team — and Joe Gibbs Racing go winless through the first six races.
“I think it’s fair in any sport that the competition of how many good athletes or how many good cars, whatever the sport might be, you can’t argue that,” Johnson said. “Now, I don’t think I could’ve survived in Richard Petty’s era. That’s just not the kind of driver I am. I can’t work on it. I can take it apart, but I can’t fix it. So I don’t think I could’ve succeeded in his era, so I don’t want to take anything away from the earlier generations.
“I do think the competition is closer now than it’s ever been.”
That is shown in Johnson’s start to the season, which he says has been “frustrating.”
Johnson has only one top-10 finish, a ninth at Phoenix, and sits 14th in points.
“Largely because it’s been more about execution than anything,” Johnson said. “We’re just not executing. It’s frustrating because I know we’re much better than where our results are. We just have to stop making mistakes.”
Maybe Texas is where Johnson will jump-start his season.
But Johnson is cautious to go in feeling too good because the track was repaved and the banking was changed on two turns during the offseason.
“It’s hard for me to like any change at that place,” Johnson said, laughing. “But I saw Chris Buescher in a street car and, man, Turns 1 and 2 are different. Way different. I was smiling, ‘Wow, that looks cool. That looks fun.’ So I’ve had good vibes so far.”
With his track record, Johnson should be feeling positive every time he goes to a race. For Johnson, though, it has never been about the numbers. Whenever racing isn’t fun anymore, he’ll walk away.
“I’ve really felt like 100 wins wasn’t achievable,” Johnson said. “I feel that Jeff’s mark [of 93 wins] is damn hard to beat. Then we won seven, so I don’t know.
“I guess it depends on how long I do it. I’ve never been driven by stats. I don’t feel like it’s a mark that I’ll feel like I have to chase. Same with eight [championships] for that matter.”
He may get both without feeling as though he “chased” them. As Gossage said, he’s just that awesome.
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