What more can be said about the driver and team that's dominated NASCAR Sprint Cup racing for the past five years?
Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, and the rest of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet crew have accomplished something that will probably take another generation to duplicate - that's if there's ever another dominant force in stock car racing.
Just a glance at their accolades since 2006 (per Racing-Reference.info) and it's essentially Hall of Fame numbers once Johnson, Knaus, and all the hard working individuals of the team become gray and old. Witness:
- Five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships
- 35 wins, including the 2006 Daytona 500, the '06, '08, and '09 Brickyard 400, and at last, a road course victory at Sonoma in 2010
- 81 top-fives, 117 top-10's, and 17 pole positions
- 7,655 laps led out of a possible 52,254 circuits completed
- 11 DNFs in the past 180 races
- $58,970,468 in prize money
After looking at those achievements, it's no wonder why the No. 48 team is the envy of the rest of the Sprint Cup garage area.
With success like theirs, they're probably able to take in the jeers and "cheating" accusations a bit easier than their peers.
Since their first title in 2006, the Johnson and Knaus Express have been on rails, working together like a well functioned machine that seldom experiences a breakdown.
In adverse times, they take their struggles in stride, working together as a cohesive unit that would rather make the most of what's presented to them rather than sulking their heads in shame and anger.
Of their five championship seasons, the 2010 campaign had to be their most adverse.
Uncharacteristically, Johnson logged in four DNFs, as well as a seven race stretch from Daytona to Bristol that made the team look about as mortal as Superman near Kryptonite.
Most teams would probably concede in defeat with the finishes that the No. 48 team, including a crash-related 31st at Daytona, missed opportunities at Chicagoland and Indianapolis with a 25th and 22nd respectively, a 10th at Pocono, 28th at Watkins Glen, 12th at Michigan, and 35th at Bristol.
Hardly resembling the unit that looked unstoppable in their previous title campaigns, the team decided to throw in the towel, counting their chickens before they hatched - not!
Maybe in the vein of hockey players heading into a postseason run, Jimmie Johnson "manned up," growing a beard that made him resemble something of a surfer near the beaches of Southern California and a friendly Wookie from Star Wars (kidding about that comparison!).
Whether or not the beard did the trick, one thing's for certain: they only placed outside of the top 10 just once in the final 12 races, which was a spin related 25th at New Hampshire.
Otherwise, Johnson and Knaus returned to their championship form in grand style:
- Grabbed the win at Dover
- Logged in runner-up results at Kansas and Homestead-Miami
- Collected four third-place finishes at Atlanta, Richmond, Auto Club, and Charlotte
- Garnered a pair of fifths at Martinsville and Phoenix
- Placed seventh at Talladega
- Salvaged a somewhat disastrous day at Texas with a ninth-place effort
Even when they had some rough stops in the AAA Texas 500 in Nov. 7, Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick decided to pull off a stroke of genius (and a bit of a controversial one at that).
They replaced the original No. 48 pit crew with the No. 24's "over-the-wall" gang, which ultimately sealed their championship fate.
Despite their fifth straight title, which saw six wins, 17 top-fives, and 23 top 10's, it was their "weakest" effort, especially with their average finishing position (12.2).
Noticing the flaws of his multicar organization, Hendrick swapped the crew chief and personnel of the Nos. 5, 24, and 88 teams, which may have stemmed a bit from their exposed vulnerabilities in 2010, especially with the change from the wing to rear spoiler after Bristol in March.
Teams like Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch), Richard Childress Racing (Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer), as well as Roush-Fenway Racing (Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Greg Edwards) caught up to the Hendrick bunch.
These teams exposed their weaknesses and capitalizing on their struggles at venues like Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Charlotte, and Phoenix, circling around Johnson and the Hendrick cars like they wore weights on their...well, tires.
Heading into 2011, while the majority of Hendrick Motorsports' teams will change, the constant that will most likely stay the same is Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, not only with their combination, but with their season efforts.
Winning a title is an honor for any diligent individual in motorsports, as it serves as a testament of the work and effort that a team compiles over the course of a season.
For the No. 48 team, it's almost been a surreal experience to win consecutive titles, much less, five straight championships.
No other team can lay claim to such an accomplishment; Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, Waltrip, Earnhardt, and not even Jeff Gordon have completed what few insiders believed was possible.
A sixth straight title may seem ludicrous, even with the Chase format. Thinking of such seems superhuman, truly out of reach for even the best teams to ever compete on the asphalt arena.
If there's a driver, team, crew, and personnel ready to go for a sixth consecutive championship, even with the loaded talent in Cup racing, it has to be Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team.
Considering all the factors and qualities needed to win a title, The Podium Finish has chosen "Five-Time" as the driver who'll hoist the ultimate prize in all of stock racing in 2011.
History's constantly being rewritten because of this incredible group, with accomplishments that will most likely not be appreciated until NASCAR's future stars tackle the battlefields of Sprint Cup racing.
Until then, everyone who has some part in the sport, be it an usher at the track, journalists, fans, or even the families of these racers and pit crews, is witnessing history, one season at a time, courtesy of the dynamic duo and their equally terrific team.