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Ranking Jimmie Johnson among the most dominant athletes of his era

The seven-time NASCAR champion deserves a spot alongside LeBron James and Tiger Woods as the best of his generation.
Jimmie Johnson walks through his garage during NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna) [TERRY RENNA  |  AP]
Jimmie Johnson walks through his garage during NASCAR auto race practice at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna) [TERRY RENNA | AP]
Published Feb. 14

Chase Elliott doesn’t understand it.

Maybe he’s biased, because he’s teammates with Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports. But as Johnson enters his final full-time NASCAR Cup Series season, Elliott still doesn’t know why the seven-time champion doesn’t get the respect he deserves.

“I think he’s the best to ever come along,” Elliott said. “What he’s done, the amount of time he did it and handled it the way he did, I just don’t see how that’s matched.”

Regardless of which seven-time champ you consider the best ever —Johnson, Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt Sr. —Johnson isn’t only one of the all-time greats in his sport. He’s one of the most dominant American athletes of his generation.

Related: Daytona 500: This is the biggest void Jimmie Johnson will leave in NASCAR’s garage

Here are the five who compare to Johnson:

6. LeBron James

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) in the second half overtime of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Denver. The Lakers won 120-116 in overtime. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) [DAVID ZALUBOWSKI | AP]

Hard for an athlete in a team sport to compare, but James belongs because of his all-around game (12-time All-NBA first team, five-time All-Defensive team) and his team accolades (three NBA titles and eight consecutive Finals appearances).

5. Serena Williams

United States' Serena Williams reacts after scoring a point against Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova during a Fed Cup qualifying tennis match Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Everett, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) [ELAINE THOMPSON | AP]

No tennis player (male or female) can match her 23 major singles titles, and she owned all four Grand Slam trophies twice, more than a decade apart.

4. Michael Phelps

FILE - In this Aug. 9, 2016, file photo, United States' Michael Phelps has tears in his eyes as he shows off his gold medal after the men's 200-meter butterfly final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In terms of medals, no one come close to the Baltimore Bullet. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File) NY171

His 28 Olympic medals and 23 golds are the most ever. Plus he earned the most medals of anyone in four consecutive Olympics.

3. Simone Biles

File-This Oct. 8, 2019, file photo shows Simone Biles of the U.S. performs on the vault during the women's team final at the Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles is the 2019 AP Female Athlete of the Year. She is the first gymnast to win the award twice and the first to win it in a non-Olympic year. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File) [MATTHIAS SCHRADER | AP]

The world’s most dominant athlete right now has four Olympic gold medals plus 19 more in world championships. Not enough longevity yet to pass Johnson, but check back after this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

2. Jimmie Johnson

(Daytona, Fl - 02/19/2006 )-- driver Jimmy Johnson crosses the finish line to win the Daytona 500. Times Photo by Joseph Garnett, Jr. Summary: Daytona 500 [GARNETT JR., JOSEPH | St. Petersburg Times]

Unmatched with straight titles (2006-10). As impressive: He won his seven overall championships in three different playoff formats, as NASCAR kept changing its rules. Averaging five wins from 2002-2017 given the level of competition is remarkable, too.

1. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods on the back nine of Innisbrook's Copperhead course during Wednesday's Pro-Am. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]

Second all-time with 15 majors, tied for first with 82 PGA Tour wins and has been named Player of the Year an absurd 11 times. Not even Johnson can match that.

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