If Winners Are Embraced, Why Is Jimmie Johnson Antagonized?

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IOctober 13, 2009

FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on October 11, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

In any given sport, it is a custom for the spectators at the stadiums or the audience watching the game at home to cheer for the winner.

After all, do we shelve out the price of admission or sit on our couches for hours to root for the losers? Do we gather every Super Bowl Sunday at the bars or our living rooms, enjoying some hot wings and beer, yelling out "Come on, let's lose?"

Although the NASCAR world is a bit different as there are 42 losers in each of the 36 races of a season, most eyes are on the winners.

Be it the race winner of the series champion, Monday morning "drives" are often about the driver who came home with the checkers, trophy, and cash.

Spanning through the sport's 61 years of history, it's safe to say that there have been dynasties that reigned in the Sprint Cup Series.

From the Richard Petty Era of the mid 1960s to late '70s to the Earnhardt Empire from the mid '80s to mid '90s, both legendary figures had their allegiance of supporters who flocked to the stands.

Those fanatics were in throngs, wearing their driver's colors, jeering the competition, and absolutely supportive of their teams. To say the least, Petty or Earnhardt could have won every race of the schedule and find themselves surrounded by cheers and praise.

Petty's title years and victory campaigns were universally celebrated, with nary a negative thought or observation noted about Lee's incredible son.

While Earnhardt was the sport's primary bad boy of racing, fans of any driver and team at each track could not help but marvel at his accomplishments.

Of course, "The Intimidator" did have his detractors. However, when those segments of spectators are compared to his supporters, they'd feel as overwhelmed as a teenage girl screaming during The Beatles' 1965 concert at Shea Stadium.

NASCAR's best driver (at least, as of the moment) throughout this decade has been Jimmie Johnson. With 45 victories, three Cup titles, and another tenure at the points lead in this year's Chase, those are definite aspects of a winner.

Winners are supposed to be embraced by the fans, right?

Not with America's most devout stock car racing fans. Johnson has been something of an antagonist, who has often defeated some of the sport's greatest stars like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and the Busch brothers.

When the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet pulls into Victory Lane, Johnson and his team get the kind of reception merited for an athlete ruining the game.

How is winning, which is the objective of any game, "rewarded" with a shower of boos?

Similarly, the same could be said for Johnson's co-owner and teammate Gordon, his "boss" was the absolute antagonist.

Gordon's successful years from the late 1990s were perceived by loyalists of Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and those in the "anybody but the No. 24" segment as stealing victories and championships away from the established guard.

Was Gordon supposed to pull over in those instances and let his opponents have a shot at victories, much less, a series title?

Of course not. No driver is taught to lose a race and to let the competition have their day on the track.

Given Johnson's current reception on the track, it's fair to compare his experiences to that of Gordon. Fans and some critics let the "outsider" have it, from accusations that he "was simply just too good" to vile cheating allegations.

In a matter of speaking, Ken Squier said in the Oct. 1998 edition of Stock Car Racing magazine that Gordon was, "Too fast, too young, and too good...too much of everything."

Squier, along with Darrell Waltrip, believed that the only way for fans to embrace the now four-time series titlist was for him to endure a painful period. To say the least, he has experienced a title drought along with some turbulent times with his personal life.

All of those moments shattered any preconceptions that Gordon was this "perfect machine" who was just destined to win everything in NASCAR.

Johnson has similar conflicts with the fans, perceived as an individual lacking personality with the incredible, rewarding life as a driver and celebrity socialite off the track.

Gordon also endured a strained relationship with NASCAR's followers, seen as someone who could only speak politically correct. In essence, he lacked a personality.

Even so, whether both drivers were comedians or dull as a wet one dollar bill, the history and statistics books will only record what each men did on the track. Simply put, in their times, they're the best.

When a driver can reel off three consecutive championships, what more can you say about that?

Sure, it helps that Johnson has accomplished this amazing feat with the Chase format, an aspect not introduced to the sport until 2004.

Indeed, "three-time" is driving for the best racing team in NASCAR with Hendrick Motorsports, who has arguably been the greatest organization in the past 25 years.

And yes, he has the sport's most innovative crew chief in Chad Knaus, who has a tendency to push the envelope as far as gray areas are concerned with the rulebook.

Make no mistake, however: Johnson is one of the all-time greatest drivers of NASCAR, with the ability to come through in the clutch when all odds are either for or against him. Do you recall the last time that Johnson choked or collapsed in the Chase?

Exactly. It's as many times as the Montreal Expos won a World Series in Major League Baseball.

So is Johnson too perfect? Does he just have it all given to him? Is he taking away the victories away from Stewart, Gordon, Kurt and Kyle Busch, and Mark Martin?

Well of course he is...but isn't that the goal of a winner? And aren't winners supposed to be the apple of fans' eyes?


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