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And Another Thing

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A few thoughts on J.J.

Jimmie Johnson prefers we wait until his story is fully written, a measured, adult response from a man who knows about instant gratification mainly because of the absence of it.

Well, to heck with that.

Patience has been a virtue here on the Blob, where the guiding philosophy is the same that compels some people to eat dessert first. So we'll go ahead and speculate about his place in NASCAR history, now that he's won his sixth Sprint Cup title to leave him with only two real historical contemporaries, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

That this makes him the best NASCAR driver of his generation is beyond dispute, even among his peers. But that it might also make him the best who ever lived is a notion worth considering now, because Johnson likely isn't done winning Cup titles yet, and he needs just one more to tie Petty and Earnhardt, and two more to surpass them.

Here's what I think: I think it's hardly sacrilege to put him on the same plane as King Richard and the Intimidator, if not on a plane slightly above them.

Sure, his detractors will howl at this, saying again that J.J. has had it all spoon-fed to him because he drives for the most dominant team in NASCAR, and, besides, his sidekick Chad Knaus is the Jesse James of crew chiefs.

But this ignores the inconvenient fact that Earnhardt had much the same advantage for the bulk of his career running for Richard Childress, and that the Petty shop was even more the dominant team in the sport back when Richard was winning all his titles. And it ignores the fact that Petty and, for the most part, Earnhardt, did what they did in a much less competitive environment.

You could count on one hand the number of drivers who had a realistic shot at a title back in Richard's and Dale's day. Now there are at least 15 with the resources and sponsor juice to do it, with more coming every year. There is literally no comparison between the NASCAR of then and the NASCAR of now, in terms of depth of talent and the number of quality racing teams.

And yet, in that environment, Johnson has still been as dominant, if not more so, than his two peers. Not only is he the youngest driver to win six titles, his 66 Sprint Cup victories since 2002 are 30 more than any other driver has won in the same span. So ... yeah.

"Unfortunately, we're racing in the Jimmie Johnson era," said Denny Hamlin, the winner at Homestead Sunday. "I think being out there and racing with him, I can say he's the best there ever was."

It's getting increasingly difficult to argue otherwise.

Ben Smith's blog.

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