Sports

Don't hate; show Jimmie some love

CHARLOTTE

OH, BOY, ANOTHER easy victory for Jimmie Johnson.

Just what NASCAR didn't need in its bid to use an exciting championship race to spark its sagging ratings.

With a runaway win Sunday at Dover International Raceway, Johnson stepped up and practically dared the competition to wrestle the Sprint Cup from his grasp. He's going for a record fourth consecutive championship and is prepared to embarrass the 11 drivers in his way.

That dominance is annoying to fans and aggravating to Chase for the Championship contenders.

It's also pretty darn amazing.

So instead of complaining about the monotony of another Johnson title march, why not pause to recognize his assault on the record books?

"I'm pretty sure that dude's Superman," teammate Mark Martin said.

But for some reason, his accomplishments aren't properly appreciated. Someday, long after he's retired, fans might acknowledge Johnson as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. For now, though, it's easier to gripe about his success and blame him for the lack of drama in the Chase.

After narrowly missing the title in 2004 and '05, the first two years of the Chase, Johnson has been unstoppable.

He won five races in 2006, and finished no lower than second in five consecutive Chase races to win his first title. He followed with a 10-win 2007 season that included four consecutive wins in the Chase.Last year was another amazing rout - three Chase wins and an improbable second-place finish at Atlanta that sucked the air out of Carl Edwards' challenge. It gave Johnson his third title, allowing him to join Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win three in a row.

Yet nobody outside of Johnson and his No. 48 team has much interest in watching him roll to another championship. Why would they? Fans grow to loathe a winner. They root against the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and Duke basketball.

So when Johnson crushed the field Sunday to sweep Dover, you could almost hear the collective groan in the Cup garage and in living rooms across America.

"It makes you feel a little sick," said Edwards, the popular preseason pick to dethrone Johnson.

What's bizarre is that Johnson isn't leading the points.

Johnson is 10 points behind Mark Martin and headed this weekend to Kansas, where he's the defending race winner. Everybody knows he'll run well Sunday. Everybody knows crew chief Chad Knaus has been saving something for these final 10 races, and everybody knows Johnson turns it up a notch at title time.

What everybody doesn't know about Johnson, though, is how hard he works for his success and the calculations and mental preparation he puts into each season. Sure, he drives supreme Hendrick equipment and has the best active crew chief in NASCAR.

But Johnson, no slouch on the party scene when it doesn't interfere, puts the time in both on and off the track. He follows a strict diet and intense workout routine, and he often drives his wife crazy with his meticulous planning.

"I think that Jimmie, being the man that he is, and what it is that he wants to try to do, which is win races and championships, he has forgone a lot of the normal pleasures that somebody would have that's been successful in life," Knaus said.Johnson has earned everything. Nothing has been given to him. And if he pulls this off and wins his record prize, he deserves appreciation.

  Comments