The Herald Bulletin

November 13, 2013

Ken de la Bastide: Johnson on verge of title

No. 48 pilot is one of NASCAR's all-time greats

By Ken de la Bastide
For The Herald Bulletin

---- — Unless there is a total meltdown by Jimmie Johnson’s team this weekend in Florida, the California driver will be hoisting the Sprint Cup championship trophy.

That will mark six championships in the past eight years and had not bad luck struck at Phoenix and Homestead last year Johnson would be looking to equal the mark set by “The King” Richard Petty and “The Intimidator” Dale Earnhardt with seven championships.

Johnson is staking his claim as one of the best to ever compete in a stock car.

The reality of the situation is that if Johnson finishes 23rd or better on Sunday he will have that sixth title in hand. At a still relatively young age, Johnson could easily surpass the mark of seven championships shared by Petty and Earnhardt.

In 434 Sprint Cup starts, Johnson has recorded 66 wins, eighth on the all-time list, and has finished in the top 10 a total of 271 times.

Since Johnson is averaging five wins a year in NASCAR’s top division, he could pass Earnhardt in another two seasons and be looking to crack the top five on the all-time win list by 2016.

Johnson has been criticized for his mild manner since joining NASCAR, but he has that competitive spirit that has been matched by crew chief Chad Knaus.

Long after he hangs up the driver’s helmet, Johnson will be considered among the all-time greats in the sport.

His record speaks for itself when you consider Johnson has won four Brickyard 400 races, two Daytona 500s and several of the All-Star races and Coca-Cola 600 events.

Johnson got his start in stock car racing in 1998 with the former Indiana-based American Speed Association, garnering rookie of the year honors. The following year he recorded two wins, his first in a stock car, before joining the Hendrick Motorsports stable in 2000.

Heading into the season finale at Homestead, recognition has to be given to Matt Kenseth, competing for the first time with Gibbs Racing. Kenseth, the 2000 champion, has won seven times this year and except for a dismal performance at Phoenix, would be in a strong position to contend for the championship.

Strange things can happen during any race at any level, but it would seem unlikely that Johnson won’t claim that sixth title this weekend.

IN OTHER RACING NEWS

• Former Champion Racing Association JEGS All Stars Tour champion Erik Jones of Michigan became the youngest driver to win a Camping World Truck Series event at the age of 17 last weekend in Phoenix.

It has been a remarkable year for the teenager, beating Kyle Busch to win the 2012 Snowball Derby, holding off Chase Elliott to win the Winchester 400 and now a truck win.

• Anderson resident and retired Hall of Fame songwriter Steve Wallace raised $312 for the American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A donation was made to fight cancer every time Wallace’s song “Anderson Speedway” was played on his website. The song is performed by Mark Sutton and has won numerous awards.

Ken de la Bastide may be reached at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8580.