No. 964
September 19, 2018

About The Autoextremist


Author, commentator, influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. Editor-in-Chief of .

Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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November 19, 2008


A championship season, times three.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

The fact that Jimmie Johnson has won his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, tieing the only other driver to achieve it - the great Cale Yarborough - who set the mark in 1976-1977-1978, is remarkable enough. But the fact that he did it in this era of NASCAR's obsessive hand-wringing about "balanced" competition is simply incredible. Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus - the man who eats, sleeps and breathes winning in the No 48 Hendrick Motorsports machine - have simply been on a different planet than the rest of the field over the last three seasons.

The consistent excellence of Johnson and Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team is hard to comprehend, actually. Start with the death-march length of the Sprint Cup season, an almost 40-week grind of testing, practice, qualifying and racing. Then throw in the constant sponsorship appearances, the marketing and advertising demands and the nonstop travel, and you have a recipe for inconsistency and mediocrity. But not with this bunch. Knaus is a demanding taskmaster who pushes himself and his teammates to new heights every week. There's never a day off for Knaus, as he remains the most committed and focused crew chief in the garage. Let me restate that, he's the most committed and focused individual in all of NASCAR, period. And Knaus clearly has put together a team that follows his lead to the last detail.

But the level of communication between Knaus, the brilliant taskmaster, and Johnson, the brilliant and blindingly fast superstar driver - and now one of NASCAR's all-time greats - is their ultimate winning secret. No driver-crew chief combination in the history of NASCAR has clicked like Johnson and Knaus. Even the heroic combination of Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham on their best day would be hard pressed to equal the uncanny communication and seamless wavelength that Knaus and Johnson seem to enjoy. They make the impossible seem possible, pulling off scintillating wins and salvaging top five finishes when their fellow competitors have already written them off for the day. Or they just go out and dominate from start-to-finish just to remind everyone that when they're "on" - they're simply untouchable.

Though I'm not a fan of the NASCAR marketing machine and have vocalized my intense displeasure with their boneheaded actions and inactions, I have all the respect in the world for the teams and drivers involved in the sport. Some of the finest minds and most talented drivers in racing can be found in the NASCAR garage, and Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus stand at the pinnacle of their sport.

It's easy at times to say that the "old days" of racing were somehow better. That may or may not be true. But I do know one thing, the trick in all of this is to learn to appreciate greatness while it's happening in front of your eyes, not just the past tense of your memories. And we're witnessing a level of greatness the likes of which we may not see again for another 30 years.

Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, the No. 48 team and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization.

Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Ford Racing Archives)
Daytona Beach, Florida, 1966. Cale Yarborough, in front of his No. 27 Ford before the Daytona 500. Yarborough, a tough-as-nails competitor in the good ol' days of NASCAR, won 83 (in 559 starts) races and three consecutive championships (1976, 1977, 1978). He was the first and only driver to accomplish that feat until Jimmie Johnson came along this year to tie his record. Cale, now 68, also won the Daytona 500 four times - in 1968, 1977 and back-to-back wins in 1983 and 1984 - and he was the first driver to qualify on the pole for the race with a speed of 200MPH, also in 1984. Yarborough famously got into a fist-fight with Donnie and Bobby Allison after the 1979 Daytona 500, right after he and Donnie wrecked each other on the back straight going for the win on the last lap. This was the first flag-to-flag NASCAR race broadcast live on network television (CBS), and it happened to coincide with a massive blizzard that paralyzed the Northeast, resulting in a huge captive audience looking for a diversion on a snowed-in Sunday afternoon. Cale and the Allisons gave them one, and the incident is now credited with beginning the "modern era" of NASCAR. We would have loved to see Cale go up against the current set of NASCAR drivers in his prime, because there's no doubt he'd give them something to worry about. Cale also competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times (1966, 1967, 1971 and 1972), with a best finish of 10th place in 1972.