- Associated Press - Monday, November 22, 2010

MIAMI (AP) - It was early Monday morning, and Jimmie Johnson was celebrating another NASCAR championship in the surf on South Beach.

His five NASCAR championship trophies had been placed delicately in the sand, and with rolled up pant legs, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus stepped into the water for one final photo commemorating their historic march through the record books.

Nobody in NASCAR can find the right adjective to describe Johnson’s unprecedented five-year run. And his performance in Sunday’s season finale, running second at Homestead-Miami Speedway to lock down his fifth consecutive title, should certainly have secured his legacy as one of the decade’s most dominant athletes.

But after so many years of being either overlooked or disliked, Johnson has stopped caring what people think of him, or his resume.

“People tell me they hate me, but they respect me, and that’s always cool,” Johnson said. “In the moment, I think it’s tough for fans to maybe look at what we have accomplished, because they want their guy to win and I understand that. But I know what we have done is respected sports-wide, not just in our little bubble we live in.

“But I don’t need it to make me feel better about what we’ve done. I’m totally content based on our performance. Five in a row, no one has ever done it.”

Nobody but Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, which continue to defy any reasonable expectations of performance, consistency and longevity.

See, Johnson has been very good from the very first day owner Rick Hendrick teamed him with Knaus and turned the duo loose in NASCAR’s premier series. In nine seasons, they’ve amassed 53 wins and contended for the championship every single year.

Johnson has never finished lower than fifth in the standings, which happened twice: During his 2002 rookie season, and in 2005, when a blown tire in the season finale dropped him from second to fifth.

That race, when he failed to catch Tony Stewart for the championship, marked Johnson’s third straight near-miss at winning NASCAR’s highest honor. The failure nearly destroyed Johnson and Knaus, but team owner Rick Hendrick instead used the disappointment as motivation for the duo to finally break through in their pursuit of a championship.

Only they didn’t stop at one.

Johnson and Knaus have not looked back since that 2005 finale, knocking down championship after championship after championship after championship after championship.

The first four were impressive for the team’s dominance alone.

The fifth one, after the first true test of the Johnson-Knaus reign was, as Johnson said, simply unbelievable.

Denny Hamlin took Johnson all the way to edge in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and nobody would deny that Hamlin outran him through most of the 10-race series. Kevin Harvick, who used consistency to take control of the regular season, lurked behind in third and never gave Johnson a chance to coast.

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