| March 18, 2018

Column: Adapting Each System

December 8, 2016

Love him or hate him, Jimmie Johnson is now a seven-time NASCAR champion. He’s tied with two of the greatest drivers in the sport, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

Johnson won his seventh title in his 16th season after winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20 and there are no signs of slowing down.

The question is where Johnson ranks among NASCAR greatest legends.

Johnson barely makes my top five because of the competition seen this decade.

The other two seven-time champions were up against tough competition. The championship rewarded the best all-around driver and each race mattered to a driver’s point count.

Some fans would say this is NASCAR’s least competitive era because of gimmicks and sandbagging until the end of the season.

Johnson adapted to the changes and adapted well.

Johnson came in after Earnhardt’s death 15 years ago. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon told his boss, Rick Hendrick, Johnson is a force to be reckoned with.

Before joining the premier series, Johnson only won a Xfinity Series once, barely led laps and finished eighth.

Once Johnson strapped in the highest level, he changed NASCAR.

Johnson’s dominance peaked in 2004 after two stellar seasons.

The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet ruled at Dover and Charlotte.

Johnson’s strongest suit has been the controversial Chase for the Cup, a playoff format used in the last ten races to determine a champion.

Since its debut in 2004, 29 of Johnson’s 80 wins came in the Chase. Fans know when he gets going in the closing stages of the season, it’s over.

Fans have criticized the Chase for the Cup format because it rewards the best driver of the last ten races instead of 36.

Outside the playoff format, Johnson scored the most championship points three times (2006, 2009 and 2013).

Gordon would’ve been a seven-time champion by scoring more points than any other driver in 2004, 2007 and 2014.

For years, information like this made me hate Johnson because consistency didn’t matter.

After Johnson won his sixth title three years ago, I realized Johnson couldn’t be stopped.

If a race team is strong every season and maintains key members, it shows fans they have everything together.

No matter the format changes, the No. 48 team continues to be competitive.

With Gordon and Tony Stewart retired, Johnson is the only driver with enough star power to remain a championship contender.

Johnson is now on a quest of being the most successful NASCAR driver and earn his eighth championship. He may be the last driver to make history.

Luis Torres can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @TheLTFiles

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