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Is Jimmie Johnson a great driver or does he just drive for a great team?

By admin | September 9, 2009

By Richard Allen

It seems more than a little odd to even have a discussion as to whether or not a three time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion can drive a race car or not. But consider that whenever a conversation comes up about the #48 team it is often crew chief Chad Knaus or the Hendrick Motorsports organization given the credit for the team’s success. It is almost as if driver Jimmie Johnson is an after thought in regard to the running of the car, at least in the minds of some.

I, for one, am more and more coming to the realization that Johnson has been underestimated as a driver. Watching him handle his very loose race car in Atlanta while still running in the top-5 ought to serve as proof enough.

Many, or better said most, drivers were complaining that their cars were handling badly and were out of control on the worn Atlanta racing surface. Obviously, Johnson’s car was one of the loosest out there. However, unlike many of his complaining counterparts, he moved his car forward as they faded back.

Granted, Johnson ultimately spun but looking at how his car was driving, he should have spun many laps prior to when he finally did. And, after I had decided I would write this piece he broke the driveshaft while leaving the pits which resulted in a 36th place finish. However, I stand by my assertion that he was wheeling an ill-handling race car with great skill.

The charge Johnson made through the pack to get back to 8th place in Bristol after a bad pit stop had put him back to 21st was impressive. His similar charge through the pack in Dover to win that race earlier this season was no less outstanding.

Despite what you may or may not have heard, Jimmie Johnson is an excellent driver. It sounds ridiculous to even have to make that claim about someone who has accomplished as much as he has over a relatively short period of time, but sometimes it does need to be said.

Johnson does win because he has a great crew chief and team. But they are all part of a bigger organization, and Johnson is every bit as responsible for their success as the other pieces of the organization.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

15 Responses to “Is Jimmie Johnson a great driver or does he just drive for a great team?”

  1. missouriracefan Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Thank you for acknowledging the obvious. Bedevils me how anyone would think otherwise.

  2. Bill B Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Johnson is a great driver. Still, I’d be interested in seeing what he can do with another crew chief.

  3. Charlie Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 8:52 am

    He’s an outstanding driver, perhaps one of the best. He’s smart, does not abuse his car, can drive the wheels off it. He doesn’t bump his way into the lead.
    Off the track, he’s smart, articulate, insightful.
    He’s not afraid to drive it deep into a corner.
    Three-time defending champion. Always there at the end of the race.
    Sort of reminds me of David Pearson.

  4. DL Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 9:01 am

    I echo that thought. Jimmie is an excellent driver, but I wonder how he would do with another crew chief. Chad’s influence on that team is bigger than Jimmie’s.

  5. Jim Baker Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Both. Next question.

  6. Abe Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 9:47 am

    JJ is a very good driver. Not a great driver. Look at Jeff Gordon with the best organization but with a car or team whose performance is not that good this year. The equipment, car and organization represents a higher percent of contribution to the ability of a driver to win races. RCR has very good drivers but this year lacks the equipment. Kurt Busch is lacking the equipment that JJ has. Gibbs equipment is better than than his drivers. The Toyotas appear to have more horsepower and better handling overall than others making them the better cars. JJ was fortunate to be in great equipment and an organization early in his career. Put him in second tier equipment and his driving abilities would not get him the wins and titles.

  7. dawg Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 10:21 am


    That you even write something like this. Is proof positive that many fans value flash over substance.
    Yes Chad is probably the best in the business currently.
    So were the Wood Bros. when David drove for them, but I don’t here people knocking him because of it.

  8. Ken Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Jimmy Johnson is a great driver AND he drives for a great team. You win championships only if you have both and have a good to excellent crew chief.

  9. Paul G Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I feel the same as Bill B. I take it one step further, I’d like to see what he could do with a different team. Earnhardt Sr. drove for many teams with maney differnet crew chiefs and look what he acomplished.

  10. Fran Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Jimmie is a good driver. He hardly ever takes chances and that coupled with his being good is why he does so well.

  11. T MAINES Says:
    September 10th, 2009 at 7:34 pm


  12. Eric B Says:
    September 14th, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Some of these comments are borderline fraud. Johnson is a solid driver and MAYBE a top 5 driver but I will not credit him with being a great overall driver until he wins a road course, the best of the best always win on a road course. Gordon has 9 wins and Stewart 7, not to base my opinion solely off of the road courses but those are the top 2 drivers in NASCAR in the last 30 years and that incldes Dale Sr., Jimmie Johnson may win a 4th title this year, however the title should be given to HMS and Knaus. Anytime Johnson is taken out of his element (the 48 car) he is a borderline embarrasment to NASCAR, which leads me to the simple conclusion its the 48, not JJ.

  13. Paul T Says:
    September 19th, 2009 at 11:56 am

    If Jimmy Johnson was driving for a poorly funded team, his performance would be poor.
    The only way to find out just how good Johnson and Gordon are is to put them on other teams for a few races and that isn’t going to happen.
    Saying that Jimmy and Jeff are better than Robby Gordon is ludicris because Johnson has nothing but the best car since his very first race in sprint cup. Robby Gordon has driven nothing but underfunded struggling teams.

  14. Race Fan Says:
    September 19th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    I would have to say it’s common sense that the driver is only as good as his car.
    Fans of particular drivers will always make biased statements that ignore the obvious.

  15. Gordon fan Says:
    October 19th, 2009 at 6:09 pm