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NASCAR Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson Eyes Seventh Cup Title

It goes without saying how impressive Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career has been since he first clambered into the No. 48 Chevy in late 2001.

Going back to that point of a rather pivotal racing season for this sport, Jeff Gordon was reeling off his fourth Cup championship at age 30.  The sport was transitioning and recouping from the untimely passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. following the 2001 Daytona 500.

Years later, Gordon has found success beyond the driver’s seat as the co-owner of Johnson’s Cup ride.  Although Gordon may have not won a Cup title following his former prodigy’s ascension into this sport, he’s experienced the accolades that come with having a steady racer piloting some of the best equipment in all of auto racing.

Johnson could find himself with historical company by Sunday evening. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts)

Johnson could find himself with historical company by Sunday evening. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts)

Along the way, Johnson established his legacy in NASCAR racing, winning six Cup titles, 79 races (to-date), and oh yea, he’s in position towards winning a seventh championship, a feat that would tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Prior to the championship battle this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the thought of potentially winning a seventh Cup title wasn’t in Johnson’s mind a lot, with the exception being in a feature ran earlier this season on TPF.

“I never really expected to win one, so I think I’m very satisfied right now with my career,” Johnson stated.  “It would be awesome to get the seventh and we are working hard at it.

Following his dramatic win at Martinsville Speedway late last month, those prospects became more prominent with the 41-year-old El Cajon, CA native.

Much like his friend and former teammate, Johnson understands the mixed reception from the fans but ultimately is more focused on the job at hand in that Lowe’s Chevy.

Bearded or not, Johnson is ready for his shot at his seventh title.

Bearded or not, Johnson is ready for his shot at his seventh title.

“I feel I’ve been very respected for what I do and what I’ve accomplished, so I don’t have a negative impact on the way people think of me and what I’ve done,” Johnson observed.  “The question has been asked a lot so I have curiosity wondering what it’s like for those guys and if some level there is a lack of respect for what I’ve accomplished, but I haven’t experienced it firsthand.”

It’s a long way since his off road racing days in the West Coast, dueling in events like the Baja 1000 to becoming one of the best and elite racers in stock car racing history.  Certainly, that is something that even this cagey veteran couldn’t say he’d experience firsthand.

Johnson’s success is understandably paralleled with his crew chief Chad Knaus, who’s been atop the No. 48 pit box virtually since day one of this team’s establishment.  With the exception of the three Cup races he ran in 2001 with Hendrick stalwart Ken Howes, Knaus has guided Johnson to 77 of 79 of his victories and all six championships.

Sure, there was the thought by Rick Hendrick to break these two up during their “spring and summer of 2016 swoon,” or the period of the season in which the Toyota efforts of Joe Gibbs Racing and Ford duo of Team Penske outpaced the Hendrick outlet.

All told, Johnson wasn’t deterred by those races and the same could somewhat be said for Knaus, although the former shared his take on how they’ve handled adversity.

“You know, I just seem to be able to maintain a more even temperament through the good and the bad, and I think he gets affected by it a little bit easier than I do,” Johnson said.  “You know, he also came from a challenging upbringing and some tough years in our industry when it maybe wasn’t so clean and straightforward and easy.

You know, you’ve got to be a rough individual to survive the ’80s and ’90s in our sport, and being aware of others’ feelings and creating the right environment for somebody else to succeed, which was never on his radar, but that’s just the way the world is today, and he’s really adapted and has learned how to get the best out of people, instead of being really upset and yelling at somebody for not doing the job right, trying to figure out how to help them do a better job.”

As Gordon and Evernham revolutionized NASCAR racing in the 1990s, Johnson and Knaus have taken it to the next level for excellence.  Even when they’ve somewhat been at each others’ wits in the heat of the battle, they’re always focused on the big picture.

“It would be awesome to get the seventh and we are working hard at it." - Jimmie Johnson

“It would be awesome to get the seventh and we are working hard at it.” – Jimmie Johnson

By Johnson’s standards, 10 top-fives and 15 top-10’s don’t exactly sound stellar, but four total wins this year and 734 laps led after 35 races speaks volumes at the level of intensity that’s prevalent in this series and with this No. 48 team.

With the kind of success that Johnson’s earned in his career, one word that almost everyone will label this cool Californian with is “humble.”  Regardless of the end results by this evening, it’s safe to say that he will handle victory or defeat with stride.

“I guess upbringing probably is a big part of it,” Johnson said.  “And then I think truthfully, the majority of my racing career I was the B driver looking for my opportunity and hopeful I’d get it.  Studying under very talented champions, but I never had anybody tell me I was great or kissing my butt along the way, I always had to fight for it, so I think that’s helped me quite a bit.

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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