Jimmie Johnson won his fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Not only is it a milestone victory, but everyone can take something away from what Johnson did in order to keep the streak alive.
Johnson came into the final race in second place. He was pushed by Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick and his streak coming to an end was certainly a possibility.
Instead of panicking though, instead of worrying about the streak and winning, Johnson did something more athletes need to do: He let go. Johnson realized he was in a situation where all he could do was go out, have fun, and perform to his absolute best.
Worse-case scenario, Johnson didn’t overcome the point difference and the streak ended. Best-case scenario he had an amazing race and won another championship. What did he have to lose?
Granted, had he been in front he would have thought a lot about protecting his lead. But he wasn’t. Instead he was in a unique situation—and he recognized it—that the pressure was on someone else. So he could take chances, and make aggressive mistakes.
Johnson was not conservative and racing not to lose, he played to win, giving meaning to former NFL coach Herm Edwards’ 2002 post-game rant.
With jobs and so much money on the line, sometimes it’s easy for a coach or a player to take the safe route, to play to conventional wisdom. However, true champions do whatever it takes to win and that includes thinking outside the box and going hard, no matter what.
Johnson and his team showed many great qualities throughout this Cup title run. They took on challenges (Hamlin and Harvick, a change in pit crew), rather than backing down from them and they rose to the occasion. They were resilient, not letting a points deficit deter them from achieving their goal.
Athletes of all genders and levels of competition should emulate those characteristics Johnson showed. Mistakes are going to happen, so better off to make the mistake being aggressive, trying to do something positive.
These characteristics may not guarantee wins and trophies, but wouldn’t you rather go down swinging? Playing this way ensures that you put together an effort you can be proud of and not second-guess whether you gave it everything you had, and maybe, just maybe, it will result in something truly memorable.