CP MOTORSPORTS: TOM HIGGINS: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVENTH
When Dale Earnhardt was on the cusp of a record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship in 1994 the number of fans pulling against him increased significantly.
It was for sentimental reasons.
The sentiment, simply, was this:
Many stock car racing followers wanted to see the sport’s “King,” Richard Petty, continue to reign alone in the number of titles won, not have to share the throne.
To their disappointment, and to the glee of Earnhardt’s vast legion of fans, the driver nicknamed “The Intimidator” won. Petty’s mark, long considered unreachable, had been matched.
Try as he might, Earnhardt was unable to race to an eighth crown before his tragic, untimely, unbelievable death in a Daytona 500 crash starting the 2001 season. But surely, it was thought, no driver ever would be able to match what North Carolina natives Petty and Earnhardt had achieved.
Come Jimmie Johnson, a Californian hired to join the Hendrick Motorsports powerhouse for three races in 2001, then starting fulltime the next year.
Johnson began winning titles on a pace not seen since Cale Yarborogouh claimed three straight in the late 1970s.
Johnson took five straight in the 2006-10 seasons and another championship in 2013, becoming known as “Six Time.”
Thus he went to Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida seeking a seventh crown to join the two drivers he had pictured on his helmet—Petty and Earnhardt.
The same sentiments that developed in 1994 against Earnhardt arose against Johnson, although perhaps not as fiercly.
Oldtime fans, especially, hoped to see Petty and Earnhardt continue to share the record for championships. However, great driving, fine pit work by a Chad Knauss-led crew and a late wreck that dashed the hopes of rivals Carl Edwards and Joey Logano combined to help Johnson win the Ford Ecoboost 400 and become champion for a seventh time.
Petty’s grand record, once considered an impossible goal for others, had been matched a second time. And Johnson isn’t through.
Although 40 now, he is in excellent physical condition and fit to keep racing at a high level for several more seasons. He figures to be a title contender for years to come.
It’s not far fetched to think, then, that Jimmie Johnson might capture even more championships before he decides to retire.