At long last, Jimmie Johnson allowed himself to savour the magnitude of his accomplishments — but don't let that fool you.
After finishing fifth in Sunday's Ford 400 and wrapping up his fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Johnson revelled in the history he had just achieved. None of the legends of the sport — not Richard Petty, not Cale Yarborough, not David Pearson, not Dale Earnhardt — had ever won four consecutive series titles.
Aside from the well-deserved — and fleeting — enjoyment of the moment, however, there's nothing to indicate Johnson, 34, has reached a point where complacency will dull his desire. During a break from a photo shoot that had Johnson posing with his four Cup trophies, nearly four hours after the race, Johnson told Sporting News
that winning four straight won't diminish his drive for a fifth title.
“I definitely have all those intentions to be as committed,” Johnson said. “There'll be someday when things change and it's not as … I guess when I think about retiring and all that. But for me, it's not that it's any work to do it, because my goal wasn't to win a race and get out or win a championship and get out.
“I'm a racer. That's what I do at all times — I race. And I know I have at least another ten years in me of racing, so while I'm racing, I want to be successful.”
Perhaps the closest parallel to Johnson's four straight championships can be found in Lance Armstrong's all-but-unfathomable seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France. For seven straight years, Armstrong was willing to torture himself to prepare for one of sport's most gruelling events.
Nor did Johnson relax after winning his third title last year. Instead, he paid more attention to his diet and ramped up his exercise and fitness program. Once satisfied to run second — if he gave his best effort — Johnson now stands at the pinnacle of stock car racing.
“I'm happy that I'm operating at this high of a level, but from my days of riding motorcycles, I knew there were days when I left the track that I did all that I could,” he explained. “That's all I ask myself, just to know in the bottom of my heart that I did all I could that day.
“If I did, I left the track happy. And for a large part of my career, I left the track happy, with a second-place trophy or a fifth-place trophy — I didn't have this kind of success. It's amazing to me now that I leave the track happy with the trophy and four of these things.”
One person not likely to let Johnson settle for second is crew chief Chad Knaus. One hour after the checkered flag Sunday, and 84 days before the next Daytona 500, Knaus already was stewing.
“I just got the gut-wrenching feeling that 2010 is coming soon,” Knaus said. “It just hit me. So, wow.”
Johnson's fellow drivers don't think he's finished rewriting the record books.
“I can't put Jimmie in history because he's not done yet. I think it's premature to try to do that,” Jeff Burton said after finishing second to Denny Hamlin in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “But anybody that doesn't respect what they've done isn't being fair to them.
“I understand pulling for somebody else — I get all that. I don't really like the Cowboys very much. But I really think that I should respect what they've done, because it's been incredible … if you would have told me four years ago that somebody would win four championships in a row, I would tell you you're crazy.”
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News