When Jimmie Johnson Is No Longer No. 1, How Is He Going To Handle It?

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IDecember 13, 2009

All good things must come to an end, and Jimmie Johnson knows that.

“This stuff isn’t going to last forever.”

After winning four-straight championships, he knows that one day he won’t be at the top of the sport and that there will come a day when he’s not the one hoisting the championship trophy in Miami.

But over the last four years Johnson and his No. 48 team have been unstoppable and haven’t felt defeat when it comes to deciding who’s taking home the big trophy.

During the battle for the 2009 championship, many wanted sentimental-favorite Mark Martin to win his first title after finishing second in points on four different occasions.

During the final 10 weeks of the Chase, Martin revealed that even if he didn’t win the championship he would consider 2009 a great year.

Over and over, he was commended for his class and demeanor of dealing with defeat.

Some of the kind words even came from the man that was beating him.

“I can say that in 2005 we did everything we could and the 20 car just inched away from us. The feelings that I had then during that season, I guess Mark would be going through a lot of those,” said Johnson after he won at Phoenix in November.

The win made him all but assured to be the 2009 champion over Martin.

“As well, and I assume more because of his experience, amount of years driving in the sport and stuff … I commend Mark and his attitude,” he finished.

In 2010, or 2011, or maybe even 2012, Johnson will be in the position of Martin, beaten by another driver and having to find a way to handle it.

Since he’s gotten used to being the guy who has always celebrated and left Florida smiling and happy, the day that doesn’t happen will be focused on for many reasons.

The storylines will read of the driver who defeated the dynasty that is Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and Hendrick Motorsports.

They’ll read of how Johnson has felt defeat for the first time in years and how he’ll be back the following year, hungrier than ever.

Most likely, Johnson will dominate the headlines for losing a championship as much as he dominates them for winning.

Whoever the next driver to win the Sprint Cup Series title is, they might need to do so in dramatic fashion or they could be overshadowed by the fact that Johnson and company aren’t the ones celebrating.

Headlines could be split between the new NASCAR champion and the old NASCAR champion.

Losing hurts and everyone, at least once in their life, will feel that hurt.

The day that Johnson does—and how he reacts—will tell a lot about his character, and everyone will be paying close attention.

“I learn a lot by watching guys, how they handle themselves,” he says. “I really look at how these guys [Martin and Jeff Gordon] carry themselves. Right now things are great, but we’ll be there someday, too.”

“I want to make sure I have the composure and class these guys do.”

There could be many different ways that Johnson could react to seeing a different man raise the championship trophy over his head.

Being graceful in defeat can sometimes be difficult to achieve.

He could cry like Tim Tebow did as Florida lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship.

Tebow, like Johnson, had grown accustomed to winning and reacted strongly to losing his final college football game.

He could smile and think about a wonderful year he had like Martin did in 2009 or as Carl Edwards did following the 2008 season, when he finished second to Johnson.

He could punch the winning driver, pull his hair, trip him, or shove him to the ground like University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert chose to do.

But maybe it’s too early to think about how the 2010 season will end, or maybe it’s too early to think about Johnson ever losing a Sprint Cup title.

It is fun to wonder though.

To wonder abut how would you react to being on top of your sport for four consecutive years and then having to deal with going home empty-handed?

How Jimmie Johnson fans would react to buying four years of championship merchandise and then having to watch other fans go out and buy a championship hat for their driver?

Even before the long offseason began, there were already thoughts of each end of the spectrum going through Johnson’s head.

The first being the most obvious: What would it be like to not have to suffer defeat and once again be the king of NASCAR for another year?

“I don’t know what to really think about a fifth. We’re certainly going to show up next year and try and go about business as usual,” he said about the 2010 season.

“That’s just kind of what we do. But if we can keep it rolling, I mean I can’t believe we’ve made history now, and if we were able to do it a fifth year, even if it doesn’t come next year, we’ve got to be very thankful for what we’ve accomplished, for what we’ve been able to experience.”

The negative thoughts are there too.

Or in the case of anti-Jimmie Johnson fans, the thoughts of not being a champion are there as well.

“I don’t know if we’ll win another championship. I have no idea what next year will bring and what the challenges will bring as the years go by. There’s just no guarantees on that,” he said after Homestead.

“I feel in my heart that we’ll be in competitive. But at some point in time we won’t be that team.”

And when that happens, will the years of watching others around him lose help Jimmie Johnson handle it?