Jimmie Johnson is one of the most accomplished drivers in NASCAR’s history but certainly not the most appreciated.
This is the opinion of NASCAR senior adviser Mike Helton who also served as the NASCAR President from 2000 through 2014. Within this period, Johnson came out as a talent to winning seven Cup Series titles.
Johnson didn’t show promises of greatness early on when Hendrick Motorsports signed him. Helton details what how it went with the young Johnson when signing for HMS.
“Then he comes in with Rick and Chad Knaus and all of a sudden, this 48 car gets in the garage, and it doesn’t take long for it to be a player amongst other very talented organizations and drivers,” Helton told RACER. “Then you’re thinking, hmm.”
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Johnson was then paired with the unproven Chad Knaus for the No. 48 car. What went on after that is a story for NASCAR’s folklore. They kept on winning title after title.
However, Helton opines that Johnson’s talent is yet to be fully appreciated by the NASCAR world and believes that the future will see him in a better light than the current one.
“Then the whole industry gets to see Jimmie, and the chemistry between him and Chad was obvious early on,” says Helton. “Then he starts winning – winning championships, winning multiple championships, winning three straight championships, and after he got his sixth one, I don’t know if anyone really truly thought he could get the seventh one, but he did. I think that’s about all it took, because there were so many individual races that he was kind of down and out early on, but him as a driver, the pit crew, Chad Knaus, the car chief, they figured out how to stay in the game, and more often than not, came out winning.
“That’s the heart and soul of what we do. We run long-distance races almost every weekend. Five or four hundred miles or 500 laps. In the world of motorsports, ours is a lot of mileage in one event, and Jimmie was a strategic driver who fit well in a strategic organization. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for the NASCAR family, fan base, and industry to totally appreciate his ability, even after all the wins and championships. I just don’t think we completely recognize him as the talent he is; it may take a while.”
Johnson is one of the only three drivers, along with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, to win seven Cup championships. And he is not spoken in the bracket as these two drivers while talking about NASCAR’s great. Maybe that’s what Helton meant.