NASCAR

Cruising on a Sunday afternoon

Jimmie Johnson compares how 2013 feels to his five championship seasons.
Jimmie Johnson compares how 2013 feels to his five championship seasons.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Do you enjoy watching an athlete perform at a high level of excellence and perfection? I know I do. It doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron James coming to life in the fourth quarter of the NBA Finals and blocking the dunk on Tiago Splitter in Game 2.

Maybe it’s watching Bubba Watson and his incredible 315-yard driving average in 2012. Who knows, maybe it’s watching Peyton Manning surgically carve up the opposing defense as he drives his team 80 yards for the game-winning score.

I know I do enjoy watching that. It doesn’t matter to me what sport it is. Watching an athlete perform at a level of almost total perfection in his or her sport is something incredible to witness. That’s what every athlete strives for. That’s always their goal when they put on a uniform, grab a tennis racket or get behind the wheel of a race car.

For whatever reason, in some people’s eyes, that kind of success is boring. I don’t understand that because to me it’s almost historic. Reaching perfection is extremely hard. Only the greatest in their sport ever reach those lofty heights. Going out week after week and trying to reach that consistency and level of performance is really hard.

What we saw in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway with Jimmie Johnson was all but perfection. It was 160 laps of hitting your marks, making those shifts, not making any mistakes and not putting a wheel wrong the whole afternoon. On top of that there were perfect calls in the pits and perfect pit stops.

Again, to some folks, they believe that is boring. It really isn’t. It’s challenging.

These superstars make it look easy and we take it for granted. Like I mentioned earlier, Bubba Watson averaged 315 yards a drive last year down the fairway. I hit my drive 200 yards and I am in the rough looking for it. Do I dream of hitting a 300-yard tee shot? You betcha! Will it happen – trust me, the odds aren’t in my favor. I can’t perform at that level, but I love to imagine that I can.

Watching Lebron James block that dunk the other night of Tiago Splitter was one for the ages. That will be on highlight reels for years to come. It was perfection. I watched Sebastian Vettel wheel his car in the Formula 1 race in Montreal and lapped the field up to sixth place. He was untouchable. There’s nothing boring in that.

When you see Jimmie Johnson racing around the 2.5-mile triangle that is Pocono Raceway and put a whooping on the field like he did Sunday, I hope you can appreciate how hard that is to do, especially in today’s competition.

Greg Biffle drove his guts out at the end of the race but couldn’t do it. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tried all afternoon but couldn’t do it. A number of other drivers, including Tony Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman, gave it everything they had but it simply wasn’t good enough.

I just hope when you watch any athlete perform at near perfection, like we saw Sunday with Jimmie Johnson, you appreciate it whether he’s your favorite driver or not. I know a lot of people do appreciate it, but still there are those out there that don’t and I scratch my head wondering why.

Every so often you get to see a sport's top athlete perform at perfection. That doesn’t happen every day but when it does, it’s historic. These are the men and women that set the records for others to take aim at.

I’ve been in this sport 40-plus years and to see what this driver, crew chief and team are doing week after week is nothing short of phenomenal. Quite honestly, I probably haven’t seen this kind of overwhelming and continued success since back in the Richard Petty/Dale Inman days of our sport.

I’ve said this, said this and will continue to say this – don’t be mad at Jimmie and crew chief Chad Knaus. Be mad at your guy and your favorite team. Be mad that they can’t rise to the occasion time and time again and knock Jimmie off the top of the mountain.

Right now, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are in a league of their own. Until someone figures out a way to pass that No. 48, Jimmie is going to be doing a lot of cruising on a Sunday afternoon.

Jimmie doesn’t have to look over his shoulder just quite yet, but watch out because NASCAR has two more bright stars on the horizon and they both come from racing families.

What’s ironic is that both Jeb Burton and Chase Elliott received “NASCAR Next” status and then went out and quickly showed why. NASCAR’s Next 9 are drivers chosen for potential stardom in our sport.

Well 20-year-old Jeb, who is the son of former NASCAR driver Ward Burton and nephew of current Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton, earned his first victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night. Earlier that day, at Pocono Raceway, 17-year-old Chase, son of former Cup champion Bill Elliott, became the youngest winner in the history of the ARCA series.

Trust me, when the time and opportunity come, both those young men will be aiming at the bar that’s currently being set really high by one Mr. Johnson in that No. 48 car.

Tagged: Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Ward Burton

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