As the checkers flew on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway, the world of NASCAR saw a changing of the guard at the top of the points heap. With the Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart only having three points between them and the championship as we head into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend, we now know one thing is certain.
Jimmie Johnson will not be the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion for 2011.
After five consecutive championships, a feat that has never been accomplished in the sport of NASCAR in its sixty plus year history, Johnson came to grips with the reality that now is.
“It’s been one hell of a run.” Johnson said about an hour after Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 concluded on his Twitter account.
And what a run it indeed has been.
Over the course of his five Sprint Cup championships, Johnson has amassed 35 victories. That equals to seven wins per season in the highly competitive world of NASCAR. Not to mention, three victories in the Brickyard 400 as well as a win in the 2006 Daytona 500.
Throughout the course of the historic run, Johnson has not only earned the upmost respect from his fellow competitors, but also from the NASCAR fan base.
” I think you’ve got it tip your hat to him(Johnson),” said Stewart. “I haven’t won two straight titles, I have no clue what five feels like.”
As the years have went on with Johnson holding his reign over the sport of NASCAR, fans have grown to respect what he has done over the years. Sure, they are still the rumblings of ‘Anyone but Johnson’ still floating around out there. And they always will be as long as he keeps being a competitive driver. But more and more, you begin to hear fans say how much they respect what Johnson and his team have done over the past five seasons.
Before Johnson went on his run, no one ever thought that equaling the three consecutive championship feat that 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Cale Yarborough went on from 1976-1978 was remotely possible. The competition right now is too tough people said. But Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s team proved everyone wrong.
Johnson, who began his racing career on the dirt in his home state of California, has gone from a struggling newcomer to the NASCAR ranks, only recording one lone Nationwide Series victory(Chicagoland July,2001) to this date, to arguably one of the best drivers the sport of motor racing in general has ever seen.
The end of the run will leave one distinct visual to fans as well as the drivers and teams at the race track.
Since the 2007 Daytona 500, the No. 48 transporter has been parked in ‘stall number one’. The spot that is reserved for the defending series champion. A spot which as been ‘taken for granted’ over the years, will now leave a distinct mark on the traveling family known as NASCAR.
But who’s to say the championship days are a thing of the past for Johnson?
“They’ve got as good a shot as anyone to do it again next year,” said Edwards. “I’d say if anyone is going to go out and do it again, it will be those guys. I don’t see them ever giving up.”
While Superman may have been hit with a dose of kryptonite this time around, expect him to be back ready for vengeance in 2012 and years beyond.
Regardless if Johnson ever hoists a Sprint Cup championship trophy over his head ever again, he has given us all a chance to watch history being made by a soon to be ‘legend’ of the sport.