Jimmie Johnson by Brian Lawdermilk Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson could have a record year despite it being one of his worst

There are some athletes we just can't get past hating to admit that they're pretty darn good. You know who they are. For some reason, it's in our nature to root for the flawed and damaged character who must overcome adversity to finally become the hero. Which then begs the question - what's our issue with Jimmie Johnson?

By all accounts, Johnson is having one of the worst seasons ever in his career. He's struggled and failed more across 32 races than in his previous 16 years of driving Cup Series. And yet, he's still right in the thick of the playoffs. He's 5th in the standings with four races to go and has a legitimate shot to win a record 8th Cup title.

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When the legends of NASCAR like Petty and Earnhardt are mentioned, putting Johnson in that company...heck, having Johnson surpass that company is like heresy to many. Johnson may be the greatest NASCAR driver ever, but you'll never get fans to admit it. His fellow drivers are another story.

"We're in the presence of real history here," AJ Allmendinger told the Charlotte Observer after Johnson won his 7th title. "Some day I'm going to be able to say I raced against Jimmie Johnson."

"I never raced against Dale Sr. or Richard Petty or any of those guys and I wasn't around for those times. But I have been for Jimmie's. And for one guy to do what he has done is unbelievable," Jamie McMurray said to the Observer.

Unbelievable is right if you look at the hill Johnson has climbed in 2017. Consider these statistics: He's had double-digit top-5 finishes the past 14 seasons. He's only got 4 this year. His average starting position is the worst it's been since his rookie year. There have been 6 races where Johnson didn't finish, and he's led for only 197 laps out of the nearly 9,000 possible, his lowest ever since 2001. And yet, here we are.

Forbes.com speculated in a September article that Johnson's lineage doesn't sit well with diehards. Whereas Petty and Earnhardt were from the cradle of NASCAR in North Carolina, Johnson grew up in southern California racing motorcycles. He is neither a bad boy or a good ol' boy. He is simply a superb driver who lets his racing do his talking.

Like most athletes who are considered the greatest in their sport, he makes the tough look effortless. Many times he makes his own luck. He also knows how to get hot at the right time, and now, Johnson is smokin' to the point of history being made.