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Jimmie Johnson: Is the 'Sports Illustrated' Cover Boy What NASCAR Really Wants?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent INovember 3, 2011

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Jimmie Johnson (L), driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, poses with his wife Chandra after finishing in second place in the Ford 400 to clinch his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2010 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

A NASCAR Sprint Cup driver who sweeps championships and exudes a California cool, calm demeanor is hardly the symbol of the drivers who built the sport as hard-driving guys from the heart of the south.

Jimmie Johnson doesn't fit the prototype of the smattering of drivers who have graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Johnson was first on the cover in November, 2008, after securing his third consecutive Cup title. His second cover on the iconic magazine was the mid-month October, 2011 issue.

You might think Richard Petty, the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion would have been the first driver to appear on the cover of the magazine, but it was Bill Elliott in a September, 1985 issue.

As one might expect, the two drivers who have made the most covers are Dale Earnhardt and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A theme of fan favorite drivers seems to ring true with those who were cover boys. Elliott was the sport's Most Popular Driver 16 times and Earnhardt Jr. has been awarded that title eight times.

Johnson may be one of NASCAR's most accomplished drivers, but he has yet to win over a massive base of fan support. He has been called vanilla because of his often passive demeanor on and off the track.

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Those who know him see another side to his personality that reflects his love of life, his fun side and an intensity to be the best he can be as a race car driver.

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 21:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 MyLowe's Chevrolet, signs autographs during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 21, 2011 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Jared C
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

There is a legend about being on the cover of SI causing a jinx. It certainly was not the case for Johnson in 2008, though it could result in a bit more credence should he fail his attempt at his sixth title.

The driver of the myLowes No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports doesn't believe in such superstitious concepts and believes the results are based on the total team effort and maybe a tender touch from Lady Luck.

NASCAR has made a concerted effort to become more cosmopolitan and shake some of the good ole boy image.

Racing in California is nothing new with Fontana Speedway and Infineon Raceway. The kickoff for this year's Chase began in Chicago because of it's metropolitan reach. NASCAR has expanded far from its southern roots.

Johnson exemplifies the new era of drivers who are well-spoken, good-looking and able to represent their sponsors well. In many ways they are marketing machines with somewhat suppressed public personalities.

Being able to communicate with media at all levels is another attribute of this genre of drivers. Television appearances in a variety of situations have become commonplace for them.

Johnson has brought a great deal of attention to NASCAR because of his amazing accomplishments with the consecutive championships and he will go down in history as one of the sport's greatest drivers.

Only those who have a tremendous impact on a sport for whatever reason find themselves on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Johnson may not be everyone's top choice for a cover boy on any magazine if they fail to appreciate his talent behind the wheel of a race car or the persona we have become accustomed to.

Johnson is a man of strong family values who has represented the sport of NASCAR well. His appearance for the second time on the cover of SI is absolutely what NASCAR wanted and NASCAR needed.

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