NASCAR Monster Energy Cup: Jimmie Johnson Is Still The Driver To Beat [Opinion]

Though defending NASCAR Monster Energy Cup champion Jimmie Johnson hasn’t had the best of starts in his pursuit of a record-breaking eighth NASCAR championship before Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, once the NASCAR race at Texas was complete, everyone now knows he’s still the driver to beat.

Johnson took the lead on lap 318 and never relinquished it at Texas on Sunday, earning his seventh NASCAR win at Texas (even on a new racing surface) alone in his career, plus the win now moves him to 11th in the NASCAR standings. It should also make everyone realize a slow start by Johnson shouldn’t be taken too seriously because Johnson is one of just three drivers to win the top NASCAR series championship seven times for a reason.

With Sunday’s win, not only did Johnson increase his chances to race in the Chase (the NASCAR playoffs), but he earned his 81st career victory, now within reach to catch NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, and Darrell Waltrip this season on the all-time wins list. Allison and Waltrip each have 84 career wins, while Yarborough totaled 83 wins in his legendary career.

When it comes to Johnson, a slow start to the 2017 NASCAR season doesn’t mean much, and Sunday proved that. Before the win at Texas, Johnson sat 14th in the points this year in six starts, with an average finish of 18.2. Also before the NASCAR race at Texas, Johnson had an average start of 21st. At Texas, Johnson started the race 24th.

Reid Spencer of quoted Johnson following his victory at Texas.

“I guess I remembered how to drive, and I guess this team remembered how to do it!” said Johnson, who has been the victim of some inevitable second-guessing after scratching out a lone top-10 (ninth at Phoenix) in the first six races of the season. “I’m just real proud of this team.”

Want to know how much the NASCAR win at Texas took out of Johnson? Following the race, he was taken to the NASCAR infield care center where he had to have three IV bags to rehydrate him. Johnson led 18 laps in his first victory of the season, as the lone repeat winner thus far this NASCAR season has been Brad Keselowski with two victories.

What does this latest NASCAR win mean for Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s team? This win should mean he’s back to the very high standards he’s set for himself throughout his career. A driver, especially one like Johnson, doesn’t just set the bar, but he raises it. Johnson has raised the bar to legendary standards that many will fall short of achieving.

Not many drivers are in his class of 80-plus wins and seven championships. In fact, the only driver to achieve both of those distinctions is Richard Petty, who won 200 NASCAR races and seven championships. Dale Earnhardt is the only other driver to win seven championships, whom Johnson joined last season.

Even with all of his accomplishments and accolades throughout his outstanding career, Johnson still has a drive not had by many, as he’s chasing history to become the first NASCAR driver to win eight championships in a career. It will be very interesting to see how Johnson adds to this victory for the rest of the season, especially with NASCAR having a bye week next week.

Like it or not, Johnson is still the best driver in NASCAR until someone unseats him as champion. He’s done it seven times since joining the top series in NASCAR in 2002, and if someone is a betting person, smart money says don’t bet against Johnson as he continues his season, most likely making life tough for the rest of his NASCAR counterparts.

[Featured Image by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images]