Jimmie Johnson added his name to the history books with his third consecutive championship, but for many fans, those championships come with an asterisk.
For better or worse, Johnson is a child of the Chase era. The Chase, of course, is derided by many traditionalist NASCAR fans.
I myself wrestle with my feelings for the Chase. I love the idea of the Chase ... in theory. In practice, not so much.
In three of the five seasons -- including two of Johnson's three championship seasons -- the driver who won the Chase, would not have won the title under the cumulative standings.
Jeff Gordon would be a six-time Cup series champion if not for the Chase. Last year, Gordon had one of the greatest seasons in the history of NASCAR, finishing outside the top 10 in just six races. It would have amounted to a 353-point victory in the final standings of the traditional point system. He wound up finishing 77 points behind Johnson in the Chase.
Gordon was also a loser in the very first version of the Chase, which was won by Kurt Busch, who would've finished a distant fourth, 247 points Gordon, under the traditional points.
This season, Carl Edwards came up 69 points short of Johnson in the Chase. In the cumulative battle, Edwards was a 16-point winner, and that's in spite of a 100-point penalty.
Which brings me back to my original point. Does the Chase taint Johnson's titles?
Sure it's debatable whether winning three consecutive titles under the tradtional system like Cale Yarborough is a greater feat than winning three straight under the Chase system (in fact, expect Pete Pistone and I to do just that on Tuesday), but in terms of grading Johnson's greatness, does it/should it matter?
It's not Johnson's fault he's operating under different rules than those of the past.
But in the hear and now, he's running under the same system as everybody else. And he, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the 48 team have flourished and done what they've needed to do to win the titles under the given system.
If you want to knock Johnson's championships, that's your perogative, but there can be no denying his 40 career Cup victories.
And that's in 255 races. A winning percentage of nearly 16%.
His 40 wins already rank him 15th all-time. At his current pace, it stands to reason that in two or three more years he'll crack the top 10 with Rusty Wallace' 55 wins, which ranks eighth, not too far out of reach.
And then it's time to tackle the pantheon of NASCAR's greats, with Dale Earnhardt's 76 victories seventh all-time.
So while traditionalists may try to knock how Johnson has come about his three championships, there should be no question that he's one of the all-time NASCAR greats -- under any system.