NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce compares Jimmie Johnson to the 'Intimidator' RELATED: Johnson wins at Dover for 10th time The greatest NASCAR driver of all time is … Jimmie Johnson ? That's the word on the street, or in this case the voice on the radio, and since the bluegrass channel was on a commercial break I decided to stick around long enough to hear how that particular conclusion was reached. Such comparisons are inevitable – it's the sort of thing that arises when one is chasing legends. No different than when Jeff Gordon was piling up victories and championships in pursuit of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. No different than when Earnhardt was piling up victories and championships in pursuit of Petty. And no different than when Petty began piling up wins and titles on his way to overtaking a host of former champions, including his father, Lee, the first to win three NASCAR premier series championships. What the 39-year-old Johnson has managed to accomplish in little more than 13 full seasons in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series certainly puts him in the same league with Petty and Earnhardt, NASCAR's only seven-time champions. There's no doubt that Johnson, fit and trim and now only two wins away from matching Earnhardt's career win total of 76 victories, is one of the sport's greatest drivers. But is he No. 1? From a numbers standpoint, the Hendrick Motorsports driver will undoubtedly surpass Earnhardt's win total, and it's likely he'll eventually capture a seventh championship. He could, in fact, become the first driver to win more than seven titles. That would make him the most successful driver from a championship standpoint (neither he nor anyone else will come close to Petty's mark of 200 career wins), but will that make him NASCAR's greatest driver? No. That designation, without question, belongs to Earnhardt. Statistics are a great way to gauge success. But it takes more than numbers to measure greatness. Johnson has managed to excel during what some claim is the most competitive era in the history of NASCAR. Yes, there are more winners, on average, today. But there are also more races on the schedule, thus also more opportunities. A larger number of teams run the full schedule today, although that doesn't necessarily mean there are more "better" teams competing. Earnhardt never ran a season consisting of 36 points races; Johnson's never run in fewer than 36. Earnhardt never had the opportunity to compete at Kansas, Chicago or Kentucky; but by the same token, Johnson never raced at North Wilkesboro or Riverside. I have a strong feeling both could have won at those tracks given the chance. I'll argue that the talent pool Earnhardt often faced was just as deep – with lineups including drivers such as Petty and Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Geoff Bodine and Harry Gant. Eventually Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Tim Richmond and others took their place. Most were champions; many are already members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Johnson is one of the greatest drivers that today's fans will ever see. What he has done has been nothing short of amazing. If one wants to argue that he would not have won 74 races and six championships had it not been for Hendrick Motorsports and Chad Knaus, the same could be said of Earnhardt, who owed much of his success to Richard Childress Racing and the talented group he worked with there. But what elevates Earnhardt above the rest is more than the fact that he was so successful. He provided fans with some of the sport's most memorable moments during his two-plus decades. Among them: winning the pole at Watkins Glen in '96 (and setting the track qualifying record, to boot) just two weeks after suffering a broken collarbone and sternum in a vicious crash at Talladega; climbing from his damaged car and into the ambulance, only to quickly exit and return to his car once he realized it would still run, at Daytona in '97; his first and only Daytona 500 victory the following season, a win that erased 19 years of heartbreak. There was the "rattle his cage" incident with Terry Labonte en route to victory in the night race at Bristol in '99; the wrongly-termed but aptly promoted "pass in the grass" on his way to winning the 1997 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway ; and the charge from 18th to first in the final five laps of the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway . For two decades, greatness drove a Chevrolet and it carried the number 3. They were memorable moments that elevated the sport and defined the man. Johnson can win more races and win more championships, but he can't match that. He needn't worry – no one else can, either. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
RELATED: See the Chase Grid " Download your own We asked members of the NASCAR.com editorial staff to fill out their Chase Grids. Even @nascarcasm got involved. See below for our sleepers, championship picks and even a few doodles. Click on the individual grids to make them larger. Zack Albert Kenny Bruce Holly Cain George Winkler Brad Norman @nascarcasm
See what's coming this week to NASCAR.com Here's what you'll see on NASCAR.com this week: MONDAY: Jessica Ruffin breaks down all 43 cars and their finishes at Darlington in The Rundown ... Jeff Gordon moved closer to making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Darlington but still isn't where he wants to be ... @nascarcasm recaps the Darlington action as only he can ... Miss the Bojangles' Southern 500 or just want to relive the key moments? Race Rewind has you covered. TUESDAY: Will there be any movement in this week's Power Rankings presented by Outback? We'll see how the top drivers are ranked ... Chase crashers? Find out which driver has the best chance to break into the postseason with just one regular-season race left ... @nascarcasm drafts up a Facebook page using his wit and comedic puns ... Hear the best in-car audio with Scanner Sounds. WEDNESDAY: See the fresh looks that will be on track at Richmond International Raceway with Paint Scheme Preview ... Joey Logano : Code Name Cobra? Senior writer Kenny Bruce will explain why ... High 5 presents the best NASCAR content from around the web ... The Dirty Air Podcast looks back at Darlington and ahead to the regular-season finale at Richmond. THURSDAY: Driver Reports is back this week and highlights the 16 drivers who currently have a spot in the Chase ... With the opening of the NFL season here, RJ Kraft looks at which drivers are most like particular NFL quarterbacks ... The NASCAR XFINITY Series cars take to the track at Richmond for two practice sessions. FRIDAY: There is plenty of on-track action for both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Richmond capping off with the NASCAR XFINITY Series Virginia529 College Savings 250 at 7:30 p.m. ET ... Senior writers Kenny Bruce and Holly Cain will be on the ground as drivers prepare to battle for the final Chase spots up for grabs on Saturday night ... 8 Tweets highlights the best from social media in the past week. Also coming this week: A complete breakdown of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field when the 16-driver field is set this weekend.
See what's coming this week to NASCAR.com Here's what you'll see on NASCAR.com this week: MONDAY: The drivers get most of the attention, so we will introduce you to the 16 crew chiefs that will be making the calls for the teams in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup ... Who has the best pit crew of all the Chase teams? PitTalks.com's four-part series analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each over-the-wall crew ... @nascarcasm recaps the Richmond action as only he can. TUESDAY: Will there be any movement in this week's Power Rankings presented by Outback? We'll see how the top drivers are ranked heading into the Chase ... @nascarcasm drafts up a Facebook page using his wit and comedic puns ... Hear the best in-car audio with Scanner Sounds. WEDNESDAY: See the fresh looks that will be on track at Chicagoland Speedway with Paint Scheme Preview ... High 5 presents the best NASCAR content from around the web ... Which team is the favorite to win the championship? Holly Cain tells you ... Kenny Bruce reports on the open test at Kansas. THURSDAY: Chase Media Day is here and NASCAR.com will have a live stream from the event so you can hear from all the drivers in the postseason field ... Driver Reports is back this week and highlights the 16 drivers in the Chase ... Jimmie Johnson turning 40? @nascarcasm has something to say about that. FRIDAY: There is plenty of on-track action with all three NASCAR national series in action at Chicagoland Speedway . A busy day is capped off by Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at 6:45 p.m. ET followed by the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol e15 225 at 8:30 p.m. ET. ... Kenny Bruce and Zack Albert will be on the ground as drivers prepare for the start of the Chase ... 8 Tweets highlights the best from social media in the past week. Also coming this week: Chase Across North America kicks off on Tuesday with drivers taking to the cities hosting Chase races and a few other locations for special appearances ahead of the Chase ... In light of Denny Hamlin 's torn ACL, we take a look at drivers who have raced injured.
See what's coming this week to NASCAR.com Here's what you'll see on NASCAR.com this week: MONDAY: Senior writer Kenny Bruce discusses the origins of the Darlington throwback program ... George Winkler and Maggie MacKenzie debate about which driver is most likely to crash the Chase field, and which one is most likely to fall out. TUESDAY: Kyle Larson gets honest about his Chase chances ... We'll talk about the Southern 500 returning to Labor Day weekend ... Then with football season quickly approaching, RJ Kraft draws up some great comparisons and talks about which drivers are similar to some of the NFL's quarterbacks ... We will revisit all the throwback paint schemes set for Darlington in a gallery ... @nascarcasm drafts up a Facebook page using his wit and comedic puns. WEDNESDAY: Paint schemes will be on display this weekend at Darlington Raceway , and we'll have them all in Paint Scheme Preview ... As Kevin Harvick holds the points lead and has secured himself a Chase berth, senior writer Holly Cain wonders if he is even better this year than he was last year ... High 5 presents the best NASCAR content from around the web. THURSDAY: Driver Reports is back this week and highlights the 16 drivers who currently have a spot in the Chase ... Kathy Sheldon drafts up some Darlington dreams from drivers before they are set to hit the track on Friday for practice. FRIDAY: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series gets on track at Darlington Raceway with a couple of practices ... 8 Tweets highlights the best from social media in the past week. Also coming this week: Kenny Bruce will cover Bill Elliott getting inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame on Thursday.
RELATED: Complete Sunday schedule " Kes takes Darlington pole Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their predictions for one of the most prestigious races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar: the Bojangles' Southern 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM). Zack Albert Kyle Busch : The tradition returns? Kyle Busch leading piles of laps at Darlington has some heritage, too. Kenny Bruce Jeff Gordon : A five-time Southern 500 winner, Gordon secures a spot in the Chase in his final Darlington appearance. Holly Cain Kevin Harvick : Coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the previous two races, it's time Harvick re-visits victory lane for a proper Chase send-off and his second straight Darlington win. MORE: Darlington throwback paint schemes Brad Norman Kurt Busch : The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three career poles, but no wins at Darlington. That changes Sunday as the No. 41 notches a momentum-building win with the Chase looming. George Winkler Kevin Harvick : Fans looking for a surprise winner to shake up the Chase won't get it because Harvick has been just too good all season and is in prime position (third in lineup) for a repeat performance at Darlington. Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr . : Sure, Truex started the season with 13 top-10s in his first 15 races and only has two in the nine events since, but it's hard to picture the No. 78 team not regaining its strength as we roll into the Chase. With a low-downforce package at Darlington that would seem to favor Truex -- a vocal proponent of as little downforce as possible -- a Southern 500 win for the Furniture Row Racing driver seems like more than just a dark horse pick. RJ Kraft Kevin Harvick : No Cup driver has repeated at Darlington since Greg Biffle did in 2006, and Harvick will as he also sees his string of oh-so-close calls for a third 2015 victory come to an end at the “Lady in Black." Jessica Ruffin Brad Keselowski : Pole-sitter Keselowski's speed during practice and qualifying at "The Lady in Black," coupled with his strength with the low downforce rules package at Kentucky tells me he is going to be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday night. Kathy Sheldon Joey Logano : He loved the low downforce package at Kentucky, finishing second with it. He's on a roll with two wins in the last three races. And he found some speed in practice at Darlington, breaking into the top 10 in early practice.
RELATED: Vote for your favorite paint scheme May 6: Harvick unveils paint scheme, talks schedule adjustment NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick was the first of many drivers to unveil his Darlington throwback paint scheme. His No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet will feature a nostalgic Budweiser look. " Read the full story May 27: SHR reveals Stewart's throwback Darlington Look Tony Stewart was the second SHR driver to reveal his car's paint scheme for the throwback weekend at Darlington. The No. 14 Chevrolet will have a retro look to it for the Bojangles' Southern 500 . " Read the full story June 9: SHR unveils Busch's Darlington paint scheme SHR continued to unveil its drivers' throwback looks, this time with Kurt Busch 's car being on display. His No. 41 Chevrolet will pay tribute to past Haas-Automation schemes run at "The Lady in Black." " Read the full story July 8: RCR reveals Newman's Darlington throwback look See Ryan Newman 's paint scheme set for the Bojangles' Southern 500 . Newman's No. 31 Chevrolet honors Caterpillar's history. " Read the full story July 21: Danica's Darlington paint scheme revealed NASCAR's leading lady, Danica Patrick , will appropriately honor the track nicknamed "The Lady in Black" with black livery for her No. 10 Chevrolet. " Read the full story Aug 4: Wood Bros. reveals Blaney's Darlington throwback scheme The No. 21 Ford of Ryan Blaney has quite a historic throwback look as it includes more than 2,000 photos of the Wood Brothers team's history, dating back 60 years. " Read the full story Aug 15: Jimmie Johnson 's Darlington scheme revealed Jimmie's No. 48 Chevrolet is one of the many cars set to rock a vintage look for the Bojangles' Southern 500 . The three-time Darlington winner will have a Lowe's Home Improvement logo on his car that was used throughout the 1940s and '50s. " See Jimmie's paint preview Aug 18: Stenhouse Jr. reveals Darlington throwback look Ricky Stenhouse Jr .'s No. 17 Ford is getting a new (or rather old) paint scheme. The look will honor David Pearson, 105-time winner in NASCAR's premier series and Darlington's all-time winner with a total of 10 wins. " See Stenhouse Jr.'s paint scheme Aug 18: Ragan's Darlington look to honor his father David Ragan is taking the opportunity to honor his father, Ken Ragan, during the Bojangles' Southern 500 . His No. 55 MWR Toyota will feature a paint scheme that his father often featured on his cars. " Read the full story Aug 18: Gallery: Darlington's throwback paint schemes With drivers fully embracing the throwback theme that Darlington has to offer, NASCAR.com made it easy and put all the paint schemes in one place. " See the full gallery Aug 24: Bowyer's Darlington throwback look unveiled Clint Bowyer is one of many to be rocking an old-school look to his car. The No. 15 Toyota will sport a dedication to two NASCAR greats -- Bud Moore and the late Buddy Baker. " Read the full story Aug 25: BK Racing unveils Jeb Burton throwback, driver swap In this driver swap, Burton will be taking over the No. 23 of J.J. Yeley, who will be driving Burton's No. 26 Toyota. The No. 23 will honor Jeb's father, Ward Burton. " Read the full story Aug 27: Two JGR teams to serve practice penalties at Darlington Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth will serve penalties for the practice rounds at Darlington due to failed pre-qualifying and pre-race inspections at Bristol. " Read the full story Aug 27: Aric Almirola 's throwback paint scheme for Darlington revealed Aric Almirola 's No. 43 Ford is the latest to get a vintage makeover before the throwback weekend begins. The No. 43 will be sporting a Richard Petty-inspired look. " Read the full story Aug 27: Terry Labonte to be Southern 500 grand marshal Two-time Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte will serve as grand marshal for the Bojangles' Southern 500 . Labonte won at Darlington when the race was last held during Labor Day weekend. " Read the full story Aug 27: Darlington Paint Scheme: Brad Keselowski Take a look at the paint scheme Brad Keselowski 's No. 2 Team Penske Ford will be sporting, paying homage to the Darlington throwback weekend. " Watch the video Aug 27: Darlington Paint Scheme: Denny Hamlin Glimpse Denny Hamlin 's retro scheme that is paying tribute to NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough. " Watch the video Aug 27: Darlington Paint Scheme: Chase Elliott Check out the original paint scheme that Chase Elliott will be honoring at Darlington Raceway . " Watch the video Aug 27: Darlington Paint Scheme: Austin Dillon Keeping it in the family, Austin Dillon will be honoring his grandfather and will be using a paint scheme patterned after Richard Childress's No. 3. " Watch the video Aug 30: Complete schedule for Darlington Don't miss any of the exciting action. Check out the complete schedule to find out when on-track action begins. " Read more Aug 31: Drivers, officials, fans pumped for Darlington throwback weekend Everyone is geared up and ready for the throwback weekend at Darlington for the Bojangles' Southern 500 . " Read more Sept. 1: Not a typical throwback NASCAR.com's Kenny Bruce explains why Darlington is different, with help from legends like Cale Yarborough. " Read more Sept. 2: Kahne's look revealed The scheme for Kasey Kahne 's No. 5 gives a nod to Geoff Bodine and Hendrick Motorsports ' beginnings. " Read more Sept. 2: How Darlington's distinctive design was made Darlington Raceway was designed back in 1949, preparing for the first 500-mile NASCAR race to be held at "The Lady in Black" in 1950. " Read more Sept. 2: Behind-the-scenes at the Mello Yello shoot Kyle Larson and Kyle Petty team up for the Mello Yello shoot where Larson gets a pretty interesting makeover. Do you like his new look? " See more Sept. 2: 1970 Southern 500 Promo The throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway is bringing back a lot of retro looks with the abundance of paint schemes. Take a look into our archive and see what the 1970 Southern 500 race was all about. " Watch the video Sept. 2: Chase-clinching scenarios at Darlington With two races away before the Chase, drivers who have yet to clinch a spot are in panic mode. See how drivers need to perform at Darlington if they want to be on the Chase Grid. " Read more Sept. 3: What if Darlington race included throwback drivers? Darlington is all about the throwback theme, with most of the drivers sporting a retro paint scheme for the weekend. But what if the race included throwback drivers? See who some of the NASCAR community would pick. " Read more Sept. 3: @nascarcasm presents: Rejected Darlington throwback ideas @nascarcasm drafts up some rejected ideas for throwback weekend at Darlington. " Read more Sept. 3: Darlington most talked about race since Daytona 500 The Bojangles' Southern 500 is all the NASCAR community can talk about, and for good reason with drivers honoring throwback paint schemes from some NASCAR legends. " Read more Sept. 3: Driver reports: Previewing Darlington See how all the drivers currently on the Chase Grid fare at "The Lady in Black." Will they maintain their spot or will they go? " See more
Whittling list down to just five always a tough task
CONCORD, N.C. -- Traces of confetti were still stuck to Carl Edwards ' No. 19 Toyota and Dash 4 Cash bogus bills littered the hood of the entry of fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez . Crewmen that had arrived at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, earlier that September morning began their assigned tasks promptly at 8 a.m. ET. Edwards' group, along with those from the Team Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team for driver Kasey Kahne , were the first to begin. They worked quietly and efficiently, removing specific parts from each entry and delivering them to a predetermined area nearby. NASCAR officials then began the process of inspecting the individual pieces, measuring and examining each one before moving on to the next. It's the final stop in the inspection process for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, and occasionally the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. While entries that qualify for a NASCAR event typically go through four separate inspections the previous race weekend (pre-qualifying, qualifying, pre-race and post-race), the winning and second-place entry, as well as a randomly selected car, arrive here at the R&D Center, where a final teardown takes place. "It's primarily the suspension officials, which are chosen by their supervisor … and the same with the engine group," NASCAR's Chad Little, Managing Director, Technical Inspection/Officiating, said. "Sometimes we do a detailed template inspection as well. But primarily it's suspension and engine." According to Little, teams whose cars are taken to the R&D Center (the cars are transported by NASCAR employees) after an event are officially notified by email following the race. The final post-race inspections are held on the following Tuesdays, and once teams arrive, they are given a detailed list of what specific parts are to be removed from each entry. "The team will go to work in pulling the engine and pulling those parts off the car," Little said. "The officials will inspect them and make sure they comply with the rules. It's usually all done by about 10:30 a.m. "We tear the car completely apart -- all the primary suspension parts come out." Engines are completely disassembled, fuel cells are removed, measured and checked and the transmissions are inspected as well. Before NASCAR began taking cars back to the R&D center, final post-race inspections were completed at the track following the event. Officials say bringing the cars back here provides a better environment and allows for a more detailed inspection. Weather is not longer a concern while officials and crewmen for the cars inspected no longer must spend hours after the race completing the various tasks. There is no limit to the number of employees a team may bring to complete the teardown as the center, "as many as they need," Little said. "And it's an open-door policy. "So any other team can come and observe. … They're parked right next to each other just like they are in the garage; nobody covers anything up. When the parts come off they're laid there for anybody else to see." If there is an issue, the series director is notified and the information moves up the management chain. "Before we issue (a penalty)," Little said, "it's thoroughly thought out." Almost one hour after work began, Edwards' Southern 500 winning car and Keselowski's No. 2 Ford have been checked and are rolled out of the main area. Kahne's entry isn't far behind and joins the JGR entry in the chassis room, where officials go over each with a Romer Absolute Arm, a computerized device that takes precise chassis measurements at various points on each car. It's a slow process for those who have other items on their agenda. Darian Grubb, crew chief for Edwards, had already been in three meetings with various JGR personnel before the teardown process got underway. Watching as crewmen went through their assigned tasks, he waited patiently until the inspection had been completed. That the winning car would be in pieces when it finally returned to the team's headquarters in nearby Huntersville wouldn't be an issue. "We'd normally go through all those things after getting the car back to shop anyway, so they'd have to come off," Grubb said. "That car will be turned around and we'll start to get it ready for Dover as quick as we get it back." By 10:40 a.m., the inspection process for Edwards' car has been completed, Keselowski's has already been loaded up and Kahne's Chevrolet is nearly finished. Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, the work had already begun on the XFINITY Series entries of Suarez and race winner Denny Hamlin .
RELATED: Timeline of Dillon's wreck at Daytona JOLIET, Ill. -- Daytona International Speedway track president Joie Chitwood III said Saturday that other than the necessary repairs, no changes were made to the fencing at Daytona in the wake of Austin Dillon 's scary crash there in July. Medical personnel evaluated 13 fans after Dillon's No. 3 Chevrolet went airborne and slammed into the fence on the frontstretch of the 2.5-mile speedway during a final green-white-checkered finish. Eight fans declined medical attention, four were evaluated on-site and one was transported to an area hospital following the completion of the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. "We've re-installed all the appropriate poles, mesh fence, the cable, all those elements," Chitwood said following a press conference at Chicagoland Speedway . "We completed that a couple of weeks after the event. "We … went through an analysis with NASCAR, brought in our experts to review everything. (The fencing) did what it was supposed to; we went quickly to repairing it so that we're ready for racing." The fencing at Daytona and other International Speedway Corp. properties was last upgraded in 2009, according to Chitwood. Changes to the crossover areas, allowing foot-traffic flow between the grandstands and infield, were made following a similar incident involving Kyle Larson in an XFINITY Series event in 2013. The $400 million "Daytona Rising" project, expected to be completed around next year's Rolex 24 test in early January, includes changes that create slightly more distance between the fans and the race track while fencing off the area known as the ring road will remove foot traffic from the area. "We felt good about where we are, but we wanted to get the rest of the property done," Chitwood said. "So the other half of the property, with the setback and the height elevation of the first row, and with the catch fence we feel pretty good about going into next year." Approximately 15 additional feet now separate the first row of seats in the grandstands, although Chitwood said the actual distance might vary depending on location on the frontstretch. The lowest row of seats is also approximately 10 feet higher with the rebuild. • With series sponsor Sprint scheduled to leave the sport after the 2016 season, Chitwood and his group at Daytona will be looking for sponsorship for what’s currently known as the Sprint Unlimited, the annual non-points event that kicks off Speedweeks each February. Saturday, Chitwood and officials with BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products) announced that Can-Am is replacing Budweiser as the title sponsor of the two qualifying races that help set the field for the Daytona 500 next season. Can-Am is the motorcycle division of BRP. "Obviously we were disappointed when Sprint chose not to come back," he said. "For us, we've got to figure out what partner we'd like to be on that event. It never stops. Whether it's the Sprint Unlimited or the Duel, we never stop figuring out what partner we'd like to be at Daytona."