The sporting world is abuzz with news of a race car driver winning the Associated Press Athlete of the Year award.
We have all engaged at one time or another in the timeless debate of whether race car drivers are athletes or not.
In this article, that debate will be left alone.
It’s unclear why AP chose a race car driver for the first time in its 72-year history.
One could make an argument that AP (Always Political) needs a boost in readership, and felt it was time to pick a race car driver. After all, NASCAR is second only to the NFL in popularity.
Certainly, Johnson was the most visible choice.
One could also make the argument that AP (Absolutely Pygmalion) has jumped on the already overloaded Jimmie Johnson bandwagon, and is joining the media experiment to create another Eliza Doolittle.
Whatever their reasons may be, if AP (Absolutely Preposterous) had done an hour’s worth of research, they would have concluded that Jimmie Johnson is no more deserving of this award than this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Listed below are five candidates, all race car drivers, who are by far more qualified, and more deserving, of a nod for Athlete of the Year.
(5) Tony Stewart: Physique-wise, Stewart is far from athletic and does have a few extra pounds on him. It could be said that Stewart is the Kevin James of NASCAR.
Equipped with his non-linear body, Stewart is a perennial winner and does perform consistently year after year in a race car. Away from NASCAR, he owns a speedway, and also competes in late models and on dirt tracks. All exploits absent from Johnson’s resume.
Extracurricular racing, multiple team owner and driver, and a sixth place finish in the final standings add to the weight (no pun intended) of Stewart's accomplishments this year.
(4) Kyle Busch: Busch may also not be the poster child for physical fitness, but according to his personal trainer, Busch is in excellent physical condition.
It is no secret that Busch races, and wins, in every series of NASCAR.
Competing in the truck series, Nationwide series and Sprint Cup series often requires Busch to race three times in a 72-hour period.
Multiple races each weekend, a Nationwide championship, and a combined 14 wins over three different racing disciplines make a strong case for Kyle Busch.
(3) Carl Edwards: Unlike Busch, Carl Edwards, could be the poster child for physical fitness. Edwards was the only race car driver highlighted in this year’s ESPN the Magazine : the Body Issue . Edwards has also graced the cover of ESPN the Magazine and Men’s Fitness.
Like Busch, Edwards is a full-time competitor in the Nationwide series and Sprint Cup series. He also flies his own plane, and does a signature back flip after every win. Again, all stuff missing from Jimmie Johnson’s resume.
(2) Ron Hornaday Jr.: That’s right, Ron Hornaday Jr., the 51-year-old four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck series champion, who also has Graves disease.
Hornaday Jr. is 17 years older than Johnson, and has won just as many championships.
Although they were not consecutive, each of these championships were secured by racing a complete season; not decided by a 10 race chase.
Hornaday Jr. has a total of 49 career wins, one more than Johnson’s total career wins.
The difference here is that all of Hornaday Jr’s wins and championships came after the age of 38.
The above statistic should have secured Ron Hornaday Jr. a spot on the short list.
(1) Mark Martin: When it comes to health and exercise discipline, Mark Martin is by far the epitome of physical fitness.
At age 51—also 17 years older than Johnson—Martin has the grit, muscle, and stamina of drivers half his age.
Winning five races and finishing second in the points, Martin showed that old guys can still get it done.
For over 28 years, when physical fitness and NASCAR were mentioned in the same sentence, so was Mark Martin.
If a race car driver is the absolute choice of AP (Amend the Poll), it’s Mark Martin, not Jimmie Johnson, who should be the Athlete of the Year.
Photo Credit: David Yeazell