Monday, October 31, 2011

Why I Love NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson


With only three races left to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, the reasons I love NASCAR become more and more acute. I began the Chase figuring I’d do the drivers in no particular order, in a haphazardly way that suits my thought process. Little did I realize that Tony Stewart would win the week I did his post.  Even more so, I didn’t realize Carl Edwards would still have the lead this late in the Chase or I would have consciously left him toward the end. The names that are left for me to write about are all possible Cup contenders with a good shot, all except one. Five-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson is this week’s topic.

Jimmie Johnson entered NASCAR Sprint Cup competition before I returned from my self-imposed hiatus. My husband, a consistent and ardent fan of NASCAR Cup since 1990, mentioned Jimmie Johnson from time to time, but I paid little attention as he was usually complaining about the guy. The one thing I knew was that Jeff Gordon was a team owner for Jimmie Johnson’s team and that intrigued me. I couldn’t, and still don’t, fully understand how one could field a car as a team owner when already in a different car running as a viable opponent. But I liked Jeff Gordon a lot so I didn’t hate Jimmie Johnson.  

When I returned to NASCAR Cup as a fan the year was 2007. Jimmie Johnson was on a tear racking up ten wins, 4 poles, his second Cup in a row, and Driver of the Year honors for his second consecutive year.  In the years that followed Jimmie Johnson continued to set more records, dominate the field, amass the Cups, and forever change the NASCAR history books. Still, with all of these feats I was stuck feeling bored by this man. The historian in me defended the driver for his place in the sport’s history. The fan of the sport of NASCAR in me explained he exemplified a true racecar driver. But the spectator in me was left feeling apathetic about the whole process. “Another Jimmie Show” and the television would blip off at the conclusion of the race. Five seasons in a row of championship wins and I felt little for Jimmie Johnson.

There were sparks of likability. When Lowe’s produced the Jimmie Johnson “fix it” commercials that featured Johnson using his tools purchased at Lowe’s and Chad Knaus tracking his driver down resulting in the lines, “What are you doing, Jimmie?” which Johnson responded in a slightly smart-aleck tone, “Welding, Chad,” I did laugh… every time.  And, the mother in me was tickled when he and wife Chandra were expecting a baby in 2010 and their little darling girl arrived in July of that year. But I can honestly say I have never rooted for Jimmie Johnson nor have I been enthusiastic for the Chase when Jimmie wins year after year after year after year after year.

The 2011 Season was billed as several previous ones had been, “It’s Jimmie Johnson’s to lose”. But more and more competitors stepped up to the plate as serious contenders for the Cup. Once the Chase began I was still doubtful that a new driver could or would be crowned and now I see a possibility, nay, a probability that Jimmie Johnson’s stranglehold on the NASCAR Sprint Cup may well indeed be coming to an end. But this is when Jimmie Johnson is finally becoming interesting to me. This is when I look back to recent history to see how his team No. 48 digs deeply to stay afloat and win. Whether the Cup is won by them or not, the team will put out their best which far surpasses any other team any day of the week and twice on Sunday! When their team has a “bad day” they still make the Top 10! Of course, not every time as Talladega indicates, but often enough to string together five consecutive championships. But the fact Jimmie Johnson is struggling this season may be the boon for his career he’s needed. Americans do love to tear down successful people only to build them up again when they are seen as underdogs. From his rookie season forward Jimmie Johnson has been nothing but successful in NASCAR. By not winning this season he could turn the tide in his image and start being construed as that all-important underdog. Maybe then more people would think he had ‘paid his dues” and deserve the right to go for seven plus championships to either tie him with or surpass Dale Earnhardt’s and Richard Petty’s titles.

Frankly I see having Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series as a win win scenario. If he continues his domination I feel it is a fascinating chapter in NASCAR and Sports history that I am witness to. My children and grandchildren will question me on this time period and what we all felt about it. If Jimmie Johnson falls off his pedestal, I get to enjoy his climb back to greatness, one that I’m sure he could muster with ease. Either way the situation plays out I can state without hesitation that Jimmie Johnson is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.

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