JJ should be mentioned alongside Petty

JJ should be mentioned alongside Petty

June 06, 2017 3:02 AM
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I know I often say how amazed I am with Jimmie Johnson, but I have to shout it out again. This 41-year-old Californian from El Cajon is doing things no one else in NASCAR history has done and he just goes about things in such a ho-hum manner. He’s so smooth that we’re all watching greatness happen in front of our eyes and don’t really get the full effect of what he’s doing.

With Michael Jordan, we realized his greatness. He was doing things physically and mentally no one else had. It was apparent. On Sunday after Johnson won his series-leading third race of the season, I took a moment and acknowledged his greatness to myself. He had just won his 11th race at Dover International Speedway, extending his own track record even further out of reach, and it was his 83rd career win, tying him with Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time.

The seven-time champion is on a path to be the greatest NASCAR driver where no one will be able to touch his feats. No driver has ever won eight Cup Championships and he’s tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Next up on the win list is Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison (84) and then it’s his boss, No. 48 car owner Jeff Gordon with 93 wins. David Pearson has 105 and Petty has the untouchable mark of 200.

Johnson will try to make that pass of Yarborough this Sunday at Pocono Raceway’s tricky triangle, a place Johnson has won three times, the last in 2013. Among active drivers with at least eight starts at Pocono, no one has been better than Johnson’s 10.5 average finish. He has 19 top-10 finishes in his 30 starts and is the active leader with 738 laps led around the 2.5-mile layout where each of the three turns gets flatter beginning with 14 degrees in turn one and ending with six degrees in turn three. The front stretch is the longest straight in NASCAR, which means horsepower is the most important thing.

So far this season, Johnson has shown he has lots of power, but you could argue Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have more of it despite less wins. Truex has won eight stages and has 18 playoff points stacked away. Johnson hasn’t won any stage yet this season, but his three wins give him 15 playoff points. I think those points during the playoffs are going to mean more than I imagined.

I’m going to look for the regulars to do their thing again, and I’m looking for Denny Hamlin to take another step in his improving car. He’s finished eighth or better in the past two races and he’s got a series-high four Pocono wins. He swept the Pocono season in 2006 as a rookie. Who does that? His last win there was in 2010.

Brad Keselowski will be my top pick, basically because he’s due to win. It’s not a smart theory to follow, but Keselowski just feels right. He was second in the fall Pocono race last season, third in this race and second in the fall of 2016. Yes, he’s finished second in three of the past six Pocono races and his only win there happened in 2011.