Wednesday, June 7, 2017

As Jimmie keeps winning, greatness keeps growing

When the closing laps of Sunday's Drive for Autism AAA 400 were unfolding at Dover International Speedway, I wasn't buying anything Jimmie Johnson was selling as he looked for his 11th victory at the Monster Mile.

Johnson qualified 14th, but had to go to the rear of the field at the start for a rear gear change.

It didn't matter.

The man moving like a rocket up the career wins list made his way through the field with precision, timing, and smart pit stops. Johnson led briefly for the first time at lap 329, but gave it up during a caution for a Regan Smith wreck two laps later.

When a caution came out for David Ragan with just two laps to go, Kyle Larson was in trouble. Despite leading 241 laps and looking like it would be his day, Larson got outfoxed by Johnson on the final restart.

And by a margin of about 50 feet -- on the backstretch past the overtime line -- Johnson was declared the winner when the rest of the field couldn't negotiate through the mess created by the speedy-dry.

Yes, it was Johnson's 83rd career victory. Yes, it ties him with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the wins list.

But it was also an absolute gift made possible by the ever-changing NASCAR rule book.

In our world of social media, where everyone has an opinion and shares it at the drop of a hat, the anguish over Johnson's win came out loud and clear.

It should just stop, right now. Mainly because it's getting way too old.

I witnessed a couple of Johnson's wins from the media center that feel similar in context to what happened Sunday. You be the judge.

-In 2010, Jeff Gordon looked like Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. Johnson went on a four-tire strategy on the final pit stop and took the lead with 17 laps to go and won for the fourth time at LVMS. Gordon led 219 laps, but finished third.

-Later that same season, Johnson was trailing Marcos Ambrose, but a caution with seven laps to go changed everything in what was a battle of fuel mileage.

When Ambrose stopped his car to keep fuel in it, the move backfired and cost him six spots. He tried to reclaim his position, but NASCAR wouldn't allow it.

Johnson got by Robby Gordon on the final restart and earned his first road-course victory.

So there it is. Some of Johnson's wins have been fortunate. Others have come from his crew using brain power.

And it doesn't matter what system is in place. Johnson just does whatever is necessary to keep on winning.

With 83 wins in the can, you can't help but wonder how high Johnson can go. We aren't even to halfway in this season, and he's on pace to keep up his five-win average for the sixth year in a row.

That's right. In the last 193 races -- five years plus 13 races of this season -- Johnson has put the No. 48 in Victory Lane 28 times. We are witnessing greatness.

Change the scoring system, change the rules on what crews can and can't do to the cars, it does not matter. Jimmie Johnson is on a mission and doesn't turn 42 until September.

He only needs two more wins to pass Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. That would only leave Jeff Gordon's 93 and David Pearson's 105.

Sorry, but Richard Petty's 200 is permanently untouchable. Joining the King and Pearson in the century club is not, however. The numbers Johnson is still putting up are proving it's possible.

So instead of hating, I choose to congratulate. Well done, Jimmie.

Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or email tominator19@yahoo.com.


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