When Tiger Woods wins golf tournaments, most people cheer. When Roger Federer is the number 1 tennis player in the world for 270 weeks, people still want him to win. But when Jimmy Johnson wins 4 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships in a row, people say it is too much. When Johnson wins 3 of the first 5 races of 2010, people complain that NASCAR is getting boring.
Why isn’t Johnson given the respect and admiration most sports champions receive? He says all the right things, plays well with others, and simply wins. Time and time again, he wins. Few people have anything negative to say about Johnson, they simply prefer that someone else wins. And when Johnson wins, many people will give credit to his team, Hendrick Motorsports, or his crew chief, Chad Knaus, seldom Johnson.
Often people will say, “If Chad was Dale Jr’s crew chief, he would win the race.” Maybe that is true, maybe not. Regardless of the car, and the crew chief, it is still Johnson at the wheel. Johnson drives the smart race, he is the one communicating with the team, he is the one who steps on the gas.
Some people think Johnson is not as popular because he is from California rather than the Deep South home of NASCAR. I think that only accounts for part of the animosity. NASCAR fans like their heroes to have a unique personality. From the moonshine runners to the brawlers to the Intimidator, NASCAR legends are more than winners, they are fighters. Johnson doesn’t fight. He doesn’t have to. He is so far ahead of the pack there has been no rival to compete with. I think Johnson is simply too good. Things get boring for many fans because the underdog never wins. And in this case, the underdogs are very popular.
Most fans have accepted Johnson’s talent. They recognize his skill. They admire his work ethic. But, they still want someone else to win. In short, they take him for granted. I think it’s time we start appreciating what we have, a great competitor and champion.