Jimmie Johnson celebrates winning Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. (AP Photo)
So I learned two lessons this past week.
First of all, don’t write something bad about Richard Childress unless you want to put yourself in danger of losing a likeability contest to the Busch brothers. I can’t believe some of the email I got for pointing out that Richard Childress Racing hasn’t won a championship since 1994. The venom, the vitriol — do you folks email your mothers with those keyboards?
The second thing I learned was that Jimmie Johnson might be the best race car driver in NASCAR history. It was fitting that Johnson was the driver wielding those six-shooters in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. The rest of the field showed up to that fight with steak knives and Johnson was waiting for them armed to the teeth.
There are a few things that make Johnson’s dominant victory so impressive, the first being the fact that he won on a day when he absolutely had to. Kenseth, who showed up in Texas tied with Johnson atop the points standings, was strong as usual at the mile-and-a-half track and turned in a fourth-place finish. But at the end of the day, Johnson left him in the dust and walked away with a seven-point lead with two races remaining.
Aside from being clutch, Johnson also turned in his dominant performance in an era when NASCAR does everything possible to discourage domination. The cars are designed to go the same speed while Lucky Dogs and wave-arounds allow drivers to get laps back without having to earn them. Despite all the trickery, once Johnson got to the front early in the race, there wasn’t one moment when it felt like Johnson was in danger of losing.
On his verge of a sixth championship, Johnson has failed to capture the imagination of most NASCAR fans, and that’s forgivable. To each his own. But what is becoming more unforgivable with each passing victory is that Johnson has yet to earn the respect of NASCAR fans.
It’s OK to dislike the guy, but what he is doing in this era deserves respect. Richard Petty used to win races by several laps in an era when the competition wasn’t nearly as stiff as it is today. Not to take anything away from The King’s ability or the 200 wins and seven Cup titles he racked up, but the degree of difficulty is much higher these days.
While Petty was one of the only drivers to have big-time financial backing in the early days of his career, several big teams have money to throw around these days. That’s the other factor that made Johnson’s win on Sunday so impressive.
Many teams zeroed in on Texas as a place to spend a lot of valuable testing time. The Ford camp in particular made the track a high priority, devoting a lot of time, money and resources to testing at the track in search of a victory.
It’s probably safe to say nobody has poured so much money into Texas Motor Speedway since Bruton Smith built the place, and it paid off for Ford when Carl Edwards landed on the pole for Sunday’s race. But Johnson sailed right past Edwards early and nobody in the Blue Oval gang was able to run him down.
Now the Chase is starting to feel like another sequel in an all-too-familiar movie franchise. Much like John McClain in the "Die Hard" movies, Johnson has been pushed to the brink by yet another challenger, yet he seems primed to pull the fat out of the fire in the final act.
The challenge for Matt Kenseth is to overcome the crushing blow that the Johnson team dealt him in Texas and reel the 48 team back in at Phoenix International Raceway, a track Johnson has had plenty of success at over the years.
Because if Kenseth can’t make up some ground before Homestead, Johnson will most likely walk off into the South Florida sunset one more time as the credits roll.
Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:05 on “Good Morning Tri-Cities” with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.