Love in the Time of Jimmie

Kevin Harvick took a checkered flag, but Jimmie Johnson cornered a Cup. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

Kevin Harvick took a checkered flag, but Jimmie Johnson cornered a Cup. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

[cb_profit_poster Lottery1]Clinton, S.C., Monday, November 11, 2013, 11:09 a.m.

Jimmie Johnson’s sixth Sprint Cup Series championship, now all but a fait accompli, will be analyzed and celebrated in all the same ways it was ballyhooed five times before. What might be overlooked is the enormous backlog of missed championships left in Johnson’s wake.

Kevin Harvick won the race at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick is precisely the kind of driver who should have won a championship by now. He almost always gets the most out of his equipment. A mercurial personality belies a driving style that is nothing if not intelligent.

Carl Edwards should have won a championship. Kyle Busch should have won one. Matt Kenseth should have won more than one. Until Johnson came along, it was Jeff Gordon who seemed destined to threaten the seven titles of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Thanks to that damned, mistake-proof, efficient Johnson and his contrary, self-absorbed crew chief, there are just not enough championships to go around.

Johnson is well liked by his peers – he’s well liked by me – but I doubt any driver thanks his lucky stars that Johnson emerged from the desert, saturated in sand and car control, to start racing stock cars.

After a two-year hiatus, Johnson, a mere 38, is back in charge. This numbing mist descended on the sport Sunday, one that led to this basic sentiment: Okay, everyone go home. There’s nothing more to see here.

"Mistuh, we could use a man like Tony Stewart again!" Thanks, Edith. (John Clark photo)

“Mistuh, we could use a man like Tony Stewart again!” Thanks, Edith. (John Clark photo)

The sport enjoyed two remarkable seasons. In 2011, Tony Stewart’s third championship was, dissolved to its elemental simplicity, the damndest thing I’ve ever seen in a stock car. In 2012, Brad Keselowski became the only driver who has ever really stared Johnson down. Inexplicably, Johnson recently said he thought Kenseth was a more worthy opponent. That probably had something to do with Keselowski’s suggestion that Johnson was susceptible to pressure.

For what it’s worth, I think those conflicting assertions were equally ridiculous. Keselowski apparently was packing Kryptonite when he tugged on Superman’s cape, and Johnson is about as unflappable as a steel girder.

With Johnson on the verge of winning his sixth championship in eight years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is at least fortunate that his toil is not in obscurity.

Neither Petty nor Earnhardt ever won more than two titles in a row. None but Johnson has ever won more than three straight. In fact, only Johnson and Cale Yarborough have won more than two in succession.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how anyone would think that Rick Hendrick ought to dissolve the partnership of Johnson and Chad Knaus. It’s the same kind of magic that Gordon once had with Ray Evernham and Petty with Dale Inman. It can’t just be shuffled around and recreated. Usually the perfect NASCAR tandem is like the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. It works perfectly but doesn’t last.

These two champions, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, go back a ways, as does this particular photo.

These two champions, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, go back a ways, as does this particular photo.

After all these races, beginning way back in February, Kenseth’s decisive flaw was timing. He didn’t have “it,” whatever “it” was, when he most needed it.

“I think the day is pretty self-explanatory,” Kenseth said in his matter-of-fact way. “We just really struggled. Honestly, it was the first day like that … that we’ve had all season long. That just … gosh, that speaks volumes about my team. We haven’t had a day like that all year where we’ve been far enough (back) where we couldn’t stay on the lead lap.

“Just couldn’t be prouder to drive the Dollar General Camry. It was an unfortunate, disappointing day, but, man, we did the best we could do. We just were off today.”

There was Kenseth, at his moment of defeat, admirably making the best of it, still dutifully reciting his sponsor’s name. He’s a good egg, that Kenseth, a credit to the Great State of Wisconsin. He fought the good fight.

The good fight is getting old in the Age of Jimmie.

Here’s an idea. Read a copy of The Intangibles when your attention wavers during televised sporting events.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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