Jimmie Johnson recently captured his sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship, cementing himself as one of the greatest drivers in history. Yet, whether that qualifies him as an elite athlete is an ongoing debate, recently brought back to the forefront by Donovan McNabb.
The former NFL quarterback said on Fox Sports Live that he didn't believe Johnson was an athlete. The NASCAR champ visited the show on Monday night and, although McNabb wasn't there, the remarks were brought up early in the conversation.
Johnson defended himself and fellow drivers, saying the only way people can truly understand what it takes to compete at the highest level of racing is to experience it. In turn, he invited McNabb to a race to see if that would change his stance on the subject.
The two also had a brief exchange on Twitter, in which McNabb agreed to check out a race at some point in the future:
Do you think drivers are athletes?
It's probably difficult for somebody like McNabb, who spent his entire career getting chased down and hit by monster defensive lineman, to understand how somebody who drives a car belongs in the same category as an athlete.
That's why Johnson offered to show the quarterback what it's really like to endure the racing environment for 500 miles at a time with limited pit stops and cautions to break.
Fellow driver Jeff Gordon made the same offer to McNabb when the debate first restarted. He also noted the conversation about whether drivers are athletes has been going on for decades:
20+ yr debate. @NASCAR driver athlete? Never met a "athlete" who actually drove a racecar that doubted it. Care to take a ride Donovan?— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) November 16, 2013
For what it's worth, Johnson was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year in 2009. So the voters for that award obviously believed his accomplishments were enough to earn that honor, even if other athletes remained skeptical.
It will be interesting to see if McNabb does make it out to a race next season and whether his opinion changes after hanging out with Johnson, Gordon and Co.
They clearly believe a couple high-speed trips around the track would be enough to make him a believer.