Jimmie Johnson made history on Sunday by becoming the first driver ever to win 4 straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. Johnson stands alone in that category, but I am about to tell you, from a die-hard NASCAR fan’s perspective, why this unprecedented accomplishment will forever have an asterisk next to it in many fans’ minds.
And no, it has nothing to do with Johnson being a guy who wins a lot or the fact that he is from the west coast.
Let’s put aside for a moment, if you will, all of the questions surrounding Jimmie Johnson’s success. Let’s put aside four years worth of “mystery debris” cautions that fell in Johnson’s favor. Let’s put aside the cheating speculation that surrounded the #48 team. Let’s put aside all of the rule changes that have transformed our sport into something more complicated than tax laws.
Let’s put aside everything we think we know NASCAR did to help benefit the #48 team, and everything we think we know the media did to try and cover it all up.
Let’s put all that aside. All of that is pure speculation, and questions that will forever surround the #48 team’s legacy.
This is why, from a fan’s perspective, the history that Johnson and crew accomplished will forever have an asterisk next to it; At least, in my mind.
I have been a NASCAR fan for 2001. That’s not very long, but it’s long enough. From the day I began watching NASCAR, dominance was rare. You had a points system that required drivers to race 36 races the best they could, and compile the most points that they could. Some argued that it wasn’t the most exciting system, but it was fair.
Dominance was not only rare, but it was frowned upon. In 2003, Matt Kenseth won only one race. But he was consistent. Dominant even. Kenseth ran away with the title, clinching it prior to the final race of the season. It wasn’t the most exciting championship run, but the best driver won. Keep in mind that Kenseth drove a Roush Racing Ford.
Following that season, NASCAR announced that it was scraping the fair but boring system in favor of a new, exciting system that may not produce the most deserving champion.
Kurt Busch, another Roush driver, won the 2004 title. But changes were made to the schedule. Darlington lost its Chase date in favor of Texas, and California gained a race at the expense of Rockingham.
In 2005, Tony Stewart, driving a Chevrolet, won the title. No changes were made during the off-season, except one that affected a single organization: Roush Racing. Roush had previously gotten all 5 of its cars into the Chase. Talk about dominance! However, following the 2005 season, they were told that they would have to narrow their fleet down to four cars.
The next season, Jimmie Johnson, driving a Chevrolet, won his first championship. And in 2007, a new car was introduced that was supposed to “level the playing field”.
For the following two seasons, Johnson ran away with the championship, and fans called for changes to be made. After all, when a driver(or team, as has been the case with Hendrick Motorsports) had dominated in the past, changes were enforced to “level the playing field”.
But NASCAR’s higher powers turned the other cheek. They said that dominance was good for the sport, and that fans were seeing the best competition they had seen in years.
The only change that was made following the 2008 season: Atlanta lost a Chase spot to California; A track dominated by Johnson. And guess what? Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson ran away with the title once again. They are being hailed like kings, sitting atop the NASCAR pedestal.
So what’s my point?
My point is that NASCAR tweaked the system and car so that Chevrolet, or more specifically Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson, would dominate. Yes, they’ve made history. Yes, they’ve won four straight championships and appear that they may never lose again.
But how could they not dominate when the sport is built around them? All it takes is an unbiased eye to see it. When Ford and Roush were on top, changes were made until Chevrolet and Hendrick were on top. Now that they are, nothing is being done and NASCAR’s higher powers are saying that the competition is at its finest. How can you not say that NASCAR handed history to them?
Forget four years of “mystery debris” cautions. Forget the cheating speculation. Forget all the complicated rule changes. Forget that NASCAR may be helping the #48 team behind the scenes, and that the media may be covering it up.
Forget all of that. It’s only speculation, and we don’t know what all is going on there for sure.
Instead, let’s focus on what we do know. NASCAR created this car and this system to help Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson rise above everyone else. That is what we do know. And that is why Jimmie Johnson’s history will always have an asterisk next to it.
In my mind, anyway.