yle Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint
Cup champion, stood on pit road at
Homestead-Miami Speedway, his visage a
mixture of shock and disbelief. Busch had
come into last November’s season-ending
Ford EcoBoost 400 as one of four drivers
with a shot at winning the ’ 16 title,
something he wanted very, very badly.
At various points in the race, Busch, his
Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards
and Team Penske ace Joey Logano each
looked as if they would take home
NASCAR’s biggest prize. Meanwhile,
Jimmie Johnson, the fourth contender,
started dead last and ran behind all three of
the others for the vast majority of the race.
But when the final green waved with
three laps to go, Johnson made a perfect
restart to take the lead for the first time
all race long. He thrust the No. 48
Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into the
lead and held on to win his seventh Cup
championship, tying him with Richard Petty
and the late Dale Earnhardt as the holders
of NASCAR’s most sacrosanct record.
All Busch could do was shake his head.
“Johnson was nowhere all night long –
couldn’t keep up with us, really,” said
Busch. “We were the third-best car, I felt,
and I never even saw him in my mirror. He
just came out of nowhere at the end and
did what he needed to do; he was
Superman and won the championship.”
Three-time series champ and NASCAR
Hall of Fame member Darrell Waltrip was
equally amazed, though considerably less
distraught. “Johnson’s the coolest driver
out there,” says Waltrip. “He’s the guy who
sits on a hot stove and pees ice water.”
That much the NASCAR community
agrees on, even if the language isn’t
always quite so colorful...
• • •
Johnson’s seventh championship
naturally raises questions about how he,
Earnhardt and Petty match up. But
comparing the relative merits of drivers
from three different eras of racing can be
a total fool’s errand, especially since two
of the three never raced in a playoff
format like Johnson has. There’s simply
no way of knowing who’s best.
But among his contemporaries,
Johnson’s numbers are simply astonishing.
There’s no other way to state it.
Kyle Busch, the 2015 champ, has won
8. 92 percent of his Cup starts. Kevin
Harvick, the ’ 14 title holder, has a
6. 10 percent win rate. Johnson’s career
winning percentage is 14. 73.
Johnson leads active drivers with 80
race victories; Busch is second with 38.
The recently retired Tony Stewart,
regarded as one of the best drivers of this
or any other generation, won 49 Cup races
in 619 starts. The bottom line? Stewart
made 76 more starts than Johnson is
currently at, but won 31 fewer races.
Or take Johnson’s former teammate,
Jeff Gordon, who won 93 races, third
all-time behind only Petty and David
Pearson. From 1993-2001, Gordon won
four Cup titles and 58 races ( 19. 8 percent).
“Johnson’s the coolest
driver out there. He’s the
guy who sits on a hot stove
and pees ice water”
seventh Cup title
gave team owner
Rick Hendrick his
33 seasons fielding
full-time teams in
NASCAR’s top tier.
(MAIN) After starting from the back of the field for “unapproved
body adjustments” at the Homestead-Miami finale, Jimmie
Johnson didn’t look like a title contender for much of the race.
But on a green-white-checkered finish, he led the only laps that
mattered, winning the race and the championship.