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Steve Murray

Dynasty Club Welcomes Newest Member

The hats may look silly, but Jimmie Johnson (with daughter Genevieve) is part of sport's greatest dynasty. AP photo

The hats may look silly, but Jimmie Johnson (with daughter Genevieve) is part of sport’s greatest dynasty. AP photo

Just as he has done five times previously, Jimmie Johnson’s latest Sprint Car Championship was almost boring in its excellence. Needing to finish 23rd or better to win and thus take second place on the all time list behind Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Johnson ran a typically near-perfect race Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Running eighth with 76 laps remaining, he was bumped on a restart and dropped 15 spots. Moments later he regained his lost position, passing other drivers seemingly at will, finishing ninth. In doing so he stole the spotlight from race winner Denny Hamlin.

Johnson doesn’t have the great family name, get into pit row fist fights or even have a marketable nickname. He just wins. Much like when Tiger Woods was dominating golf and his competitors spoke of playing for second, Johnson’s peers are just as burdened.

“Unfortunately, we’re racing during the Jimmie Johnson era,” said the aforementioned Hamlin following the race. “We’re just unlucky in that sense.”

In addition to giving real possibility to Brett Hart’s “best there is, best there was, best there will ever be” mantra, Johnson also has helped Hendricks Motorsports (HMS) become the most dominant organization in sports.

With six Sprint Cup titles in eight years (and 11 overall since 1984), Hendricks has reached a level of success only the Yankees, Canadians and Celtics can appreciate. In fact, what Rick Hendrick has done is even more impressive.

Specifics are impossible to codify. Comparing what happens in a 750-horsepower vehicle capable of covering a football field in just over a second with a running back’s 40 time is silly. Acknowledging such differences, however, doesn’t mean the idea is not worthy of discussion.

The first thing one has to realize is that racing is a team sport most similar to the NFL. (You can argue among yourselves whether drivers are athletes.)

The driver is the quarterback.

Without the aide of computerized sensing equipment used in Formula 1, a NASCAR driver must be able to communicate what he sees and feels to every member of his team. Peyton Manning does the same. The Broncos’ QB reads defenses, adjusts plays and coordinates with his coach on ways to be more effective. So does Johnson.

The crew chief is the coach.

Tom Brady will be forever linked to Bill Belichick. It’s a relationship that goes beyond a simple player and coach – they share both a personal and professional bond. Johnson’s head coach is Chad Knaus. Knaus is as close with his play-caller as Belichick is to his, and they work together just as well – even if it means bending the rules. Knaus has been suspended four times for various violations ,and Belichick, though never busted, will always be associated with Spygate. Both have claimed to be innocent of all charges.

The pit crew is the other 10 guys on the field.

NFL quarterbacks tend to be their best when those around them are perfect in their assignments. NASCAR is no different. When Johnson pits, his crew must perform exacting tasks in the right order and as efficiently as possible. Anything less in unacceptable. Troy Aikman knew this. If his lineman, receivers or runners went outside the scheme or did their jobs in a poor manner, there was hell to pay.

There you have it. NASCAR is the NFL, only more difficult.

Each season the Steelers can count on winning 65 percent of their games. NASCAR teams are pleased to win one-tenth of that amount. HMS is the exception.

Hendricks has won 218 of 948 races (22.9 percent), capturing 1,956 poles and 902 top-five finishes. Their nearest competitors don’t come close. Joe Gibbs Racing has won 6.9 percent of its entries, while Richard Childress Racing only 4.4 percent. No team sport makes winning harder than NASCAR.

Call Bleacher Report. It’s time to update those all-time lists.

smurray@midweek.com Twitter @SteveMurray84

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