Monday, November 21, 2016

The best. Ever?

What A.J. Foyt used to memorably call a "tub o' s***," that's what Jimmie Johnson had under him Sunday. His car was a pig. It was processed meat product with a shiny paint job. Legendary crew chief Chad Knaus, Robin to J.J.'s Batman, was reduced at one point to cursing loudly because nothing he tried could make the pile of junk go.

And Jimmie Johnson?

Frosty as Christmas.

He circled Homestead's mile-and-a-half oval, Knaus kept trying things, and when one thing after another didn't work, J.J. scarcely said a word. And today he's at the top of the NASCAR pyramid, right up there with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as a seven-time champion.

He had to catch a break to do it -- thanks, Carl Edwards, for squeezing Joey Logano on that restart with 10 to go and wrecking both their chances -- but when the door opened, J.J. stepped through. And that doesn't happen if he doesn't keep his cool and his focus through the long twilight and evening. That doesn't happen if he doesn't stay after it until Knaus finally found something that worked and Johnson made it pay off.

Exhibit A for why we can, or at least should, finally acknowledge that he's the greatest stock-car driver of his generation. And maybe of any generation.

That will fall as sacrilege on the ears of the acolytes of Earnhardt and Petty, and maybe even on the ears of those of us (the Blob included) who regard David Pearson as the greatest stock-car racer of all time. I don't know if J.J.'s better than the other three, but he's certainly in the team photo. And he's not standing in the back either.

The haters, of course, will hate this. They'll point out that Johnson has always had the advantage of driving for the best team in NASCAR, forgetting that, in their heyday, so did Petty and Earnhardt. They'll also point out that Knaus has a reputation for what everyone outside NASCAR would call cheating -- a failed pre-race inspection sent Johnson to the back of the field Sunday, after all -- and what everyone inside NASCAR would simply call trying to get an edge.

No one, remember, pulled more stunts trying to slick everyone else than the late, legendary Smokey Yunick. Who's now in both the International Motorsports and Motorsports of America Halls of Fame.

So enough of that noise. Raise a glass, instead, to Jimmie Johnson. His kind of greatness doesn't grace our presence very often.

If at all.

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