When it comes to contentious greatest-of-all-time debates, most sports fans tend to look at Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James as the gold standard. Now, while it may not be constant fodder on major TV networks or sports talk radio like MJ vs. LeBron, the debate over NASCAR's GOAT is just as heated between diehard fans of the sport. We're talking Dale Earnhardt vs. Jimmie Johnson.
From an accomplishment standpoint, the two racing legends are pretty much neck and neck. They both won seven Cup Series championships. They both ran in about the same number of Cup races, with Earnhardt at 676 and Johnson at 686. They're hovering around similar numbers for wins and top-10 finishes (Earnhardt had 76 wins and 428 top-10s, while Johnson has 83 wins and 374 top-10s). So, who takes the gold? For some, it really all comes down to which era of NASCAR most resonates with them.
During an interview ahead of the 2023 Busch Light at The Coliseum, Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott showed their preference for the modern era when they weighed in on NASCAR's GOAT debate.
"I think my GOAT would be Jimmie (Johnson)," Larson said. "I guess the way I look at it -- in the end, I am probably biased, because I got to compete with him -- but just the quality of competition and car. His era was, in my opinion, much more difficult. So, that's why he would be my GOAT. And, he won five in a row. That's crazy."
Elliott echoed his teammate's sentiments: "Yeah, I would agree. I was going to mention the five in a row. Seven gets talked about a lot. But, that five-in-a-row thing doesn't get talked about enough, in my opinion. I know the format was different, but makes it a little more possible to do. But, still, that's a tall order, that's pretty impressive."
Now, like with the MJ vs. LeBron debate, your answer usually falls in line with who you grew up watching. Kyle Larson was eight years old when Dale Sr. died at the 2001 Daytona 500. Elliott was five. They didn't get to witness first-hand "The Intimidator's" dominance in the late '80s and early '90s. Sure, Johnson winning five titles in a row is one of the most impressive (and, frankly, underrated) sports accomplishments of all time. But, just think about what Dale did for NASCAR. His name is so synonymous with the sport that most people know who he is without having watched a second of NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson doesn't quite have that same resonance in the zeitgeist. In fact, when most people hear name "Jimmie Johnson," they probably think of the legendary NFL coach, despite the different spelling.
All that being said, though, I get it: the debate between Johnson vs. Earnhardt is over "greatest" not "most impactful." It's definitely an arguable question. And, Jimmie coming back to the sport after retiring in 2020 is probably what makes him front and center in the minds of most of NASCAR's younger talent. So don't think of Chase and Kyle's immediate responses as slights against Dale. Or do, if you want. That's totally your right.
MORE: Michael Jordan Helped Inspire Jimmie Johnson to Become a NASCAR Team Owner
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