Secure in both his life and his on-track legacy, Jimmie Johnson knows that many fans of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt don’t want him to tie those two legends’ records by winning a seventh NASCAR title this month.
But you know what?
I think he’s going to.
Johnson has already locked down the first of the “final four” spots for the Homestead season finale in Florida on November 20 with his victory in Martinsville last Sunday. And while Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, likes to claim that the No. 48 Chevrolet team is not concerned with Johnson getting to No. 7, Johnson has no problem saying that he is.
“I’m aware of it and what it would mean,” Johnson told a small group of us reporters last week. “And damn, I want to do it. The desire to accomplish it is very intense and very real. … I think seven would give me super long legs for my legacy.”
To that end, Johnson has been wearing a racing helmet that reads “Chasing 7,” with pictures of both Petty and Earnhardt emblazoned upon it.
Said Johnson: “The fact that I have Dale and Richard’s faces on my helmet is, one, respect to them, and two, just to put a target on something. That’s the goal.”
Six titles in eight years
The 2016 NBA Finals went to a Game 7. The World Series did, too, and then produced a game of remarkable drama. The most recent men’s college basketball ended on a walk-off final shot that was another ending for the ages.
Johnson, 41, will be a prime candidate to win it – again. He won all six of his Cup championships in an eight-year span from 2006-2013. He has not won a title since the latest version of the Chase playoff race was unveiled in early 2014. Did he prefer the previous formats?
“Hell, yeah,” Johnson said.
Johnson is always close, though. There is really no way to “Jimmie-proof” the Cup series, just like you can’t “LeBron-proof” the NBA. Johnson is simply too good – smooth, consistent, unflappable. Johnson also knows that a number of people will root against him at Homestead, not wanting him to equal the records of “The King” and “The Intimidator.” It doesn’t faze him – he knows Earnhardt also got booed a lot when he was chasing his own seventh championship.
Said Johnson: “I would imagine the older demographic is probably rooting against me, if I was to guess. … And I think the younger fans in general would be more in favor of me tying them.”
Even if he were to win No. 7 this year and No. 8 in 2017, however, Johnson knows that some race fans will never consider him as good as Petty and Earnhardt.
“I see that every time I open my [Twitter] feed,” Johnson said.
Johnson has won at least four Cup races every year since 2012. He basically has a hall pass for the next two races – in Texas and Arizona – as his crew tries to work ahead on its Homestead setup and waits to see who the other three finalists will be.
“Winning seven?” Johnson said. “It would be insane.”