"It's very similar," Helton said. "We're always more respectful of dynasties in the future than we are when they're being built. If you look at all sports, it's that way. When dynasties are being built, we're more appreciative of them and kind to the individuals in the future than we are while it's happening. That's just human nature.
"To look back at someone who did something so extreme, you think, 'Oh my goodness, we saw that?'"
Waltrip has been there. He won three Cup championships and 40 races in five seasons from 1981 to 1985. He was "Jaws" back then, so-named a couple of years prior by Yarborough because Waltrip talked so much.
"Fans are very emotional," Waltrip said. "They have an emotional attachment to a driver or a car or a team or sponsor. And if you're beating their driver, they don't like you.
"It's not a matter of, 'Well that's OK, that's just him.' There's no mediocrity when it comes to how fans feel -- they love you or they hate you; they're on your side or they're against you."
Andy Petree was Earnhardt's crew chief in the heyday, when the black No. 3 was the standard on every conceivable level, competitively and socially. He won back-to-back championships with Earnhardt in 1993 and 1994.
"I remember we'd win races down here for [Daytona] Speedweeks, you could hardly get a human being to talk to you in the garage area," Petree said. "None of the other teams would even speak to you. They didn't really like us."
That's one thing that's odd about the way disgruntled fans feel about Johnson. It's opposite from how those inside the garage seem to think of him. If you poll his peers, you're hard-pressed to find anyone who says an ill word. Clint Bowyer once said, "the biggest thing that sucks about Jimmie Johnson is you want to hate him, but you can't."
"It seems like everybody likes Jimmie," Petree continued. "Jimmie is a very likable guy. I think he's more like -- I think the thing he said is he was 'motivating.' People watch what he's doing, and how he's doing it, and I think that that's driving him more than anything."
Maybe that's the fans' issue: He's too nice. They hate what they think he is.
"Dale Earnhardt got a lot of respect because everybody thought they could be Dale," said Chocolate Myers, a core member of Earnhardt's "Junkyard Dogs" pit crew for years and now a NASCAR analyst for SiriusXM Radio.
"Dale didn't have that education," Myers continued. "He was not a polished guy. He was a good ol' boy from Kannapolis [N.C.] that had a farm and sat on a bulldozer. Jimmie Johnson, people think he's polished. He's not. He's a cool dude. I really like this guy. He's as good a person as I've ever met. Fans don't like him, though, because he seems so polished."
Polished. That's a polarizing word in NASCAR. Those who spend the corporate dollars to make the wheel turn want it. Core fans hate it. Especially when polished is also seemingly unstoppable.
It's exactly how non-New York Yankees fans feel about the Yankees: clean-shaven faces and perfect pinstripes, always; no surface flaws.
"They don't look at him as an individual, like you get to know somebody," Helton said. "They look at him as an athlete that's beating people they traditionally pulled for. He's the next in the cycle, so to speak. And in some cases, if he beats their guy, then fans of everybody else automatically aren't on his side.
"Jimmie is almost single-handedly against the entire rest of the industry."