When you’ve won three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships you’re bound to get plenty of attention.
You’re also bound to catch some breaks.
Jimmie Johnson not only gets both of those, he gets a lot of them. An argument could be made that Johnson has become NASCAR’s new favorite son. The media attention and the spotlight on him is always about how good he and crew chief Chad Knaus are.
Much praise goes to all the good things about Johnson’s radio communication when in fact he has just as bad a mouth and attitude toward others as anyone else on the track.
The more that Johnson is praised and the more he gets away with, a little more of who Jimmie Johnson really is comes out.
There are several questionable incidents of NASCAR favoritism or turning a blind eye that come to mind. The first could be March of 2007 at Las Vegas. Johnson was attempting to make history by winning three straight years in Sin City.
Early in the race he was sent to the back of the pack, 26th, after his pit crew lost control of a tire during a pit stop. After Johnson had worked his way back into the top five, a caution with 40 laps to go brought all the leaders back down pit road.
Once again, the No. 48 crew had a tire leave their pit stall and roll away. This time though, a NASCAR official was there to bring the tire back as Johnson sped away and went on to win the race after no penalty was assessed for the second incident.
A recent incident would include Johnson receiving three Lucky Dog awards after broadcasters and an interview with Knaus repeatedly mentioned how badly they needed a caution. There were also grumblings about the incidents that led to said cautions, such as David Ragan “hitting” the wall.
Some said NASCAR didn’t look at whether he had maintained minimum speed.
A week later in Michigan the Lowe’s team was up to its old tricks of breaking the rules when twice Johnson didn’t obey the restart rule of not beating the leader to the start-finish line.
NASCAR didn’t seem to notice even after Dale Jarrett exuberantly said, “That wasn’t even close!”
Johnson was on his way to a win had he not run out of fuel. And even thought he didn’t pull into victory lane, it didn’t stop the damage from being done. Some NASCAR fans minds have been made up that Jimmie Johnson can do whatever he wants.
The California native’s ego may be starting to agree as the robotic Jimmie Johnson disappears as the real Jimmie Johnson stands up.
In 2006 when he won the Daytona 500 after Knaus was suspended for cheating, Johnson said in victory lane “I’m dedicating this win to all the haters of the 48.” Fans weren’t impressed with Johnson’s thoughtfulness.
A year later after winning his first championship Johnson starred in a commercial for Nextel in which Elliott Sadler tried to give him advice but was interrupted by Johnson who pulled out his cell phone and said “I’m gonna need it again.” A crewmember walked over and stood next Johnson holding the championship trophy as Johnson asked Sadler, “I’m so sorry, what were you saying?”
End of discussion, Johnson played the part perfectly.
Just as he did earlier this year when talking about being nominated for the Best Male Athlete ESPY, when he said about fellow nominee Michael Phelps to a room full of media members, “Would Phelps make it in our sport? Would he pass the drug test?”
Johnson succeeded in alienating more fans because Phelps went on to win the award that was determined by a fan vote. It was just another notch on the "Hate Jimmie Johnson" board which continues to grow each weekend as evidenced by the amount of boos he receives.
Saturday night at Bristol, Johnson added to those accolades. During driver introductions each of the 43 drivers came out to a theme song of their choosing and were given a chance to address the fans.
Johnson walked out and said to the 160,000 people in attendance, “You know you love me.” The fans booed even louder.
Johnson either can’t get through the day without attention (did you notice that even though he was solidly in the Chase he still needed five points from Mark Martin?), is trying to make himself believe that people other than his teammates like him, or maybe, just maybe Jimmie Johnson, you are exactly right.
Fans love how since you entered the series Jeff Gordon hasn’t won a championship. They love how you are always talked about in such a loving way in both the media and during the race broadcasts.
They love how NASCAR officials can stop your tires with no penalty but when Ron Fellows had that happen at Watkins Glen he had to serve the penalty. They love how you can get warnings during a race for not being in line but last year in Bristol Dale Earnhardt Jr. was immediately penalized for not staying in line.
They love how you plead ignorance or no wrong in an interview and how you dig yourself a deeper hole in their eyes every time you talk. They love how your team sandbags until the Chase and then goes one to win four straight races or how a caution always seems to fall when you need them.
And they absolutely love how much NASCAR adores you.
Just as always, Jimmie Johnson, you are right.
NASCAR fans know they love you… they know they love to hate you.