Every sport has to have an irresistible force that seems slightly less than a God but more than a man. Basketball has had Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and Lebron James. Baseball has had Babe Ruth, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose. NASCAR has had Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Now it has Jimmie Johnson, a driver who’s dominance over the past decade has him on the verge of having the “Greatest of All Time” tag pinned to his name in the story of stock car racing. From 2006 to 2010, Johnson won all five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships, became the first racing driver to become the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year (2009), and for the past two years in a row has topped Forbes.com’s Most Influential Athletes List.
Now in August of 2013 he sits comfortably at the head of Sprint Cup Series standings and seems poised to win a sixth championship in the fall. If he manages to get that sixth win he will move to just one championship behind Petty and Earnhardt for the most all-time.
How does this help NASCAR? Well aside from the fact that it’s fans may be witnessing the greatest driver of all-time in action, it gives casual people someone to root for and gives the die-hards someone to root against. NASCAR’s loyal fan base consists of the types of people that can relate to Petty and Earnhardt, guys who didn’t have their own jets, weren’t portrayed as princes in prestigious magazines, and were never about to filter what comes out of their mouth.
A lot of NASCAR fans nowadays think guys like Jimmie Johnson are too well-kept and spoiled. Many think Jimmie Johnson represents conformity to the mainstream and a sacrifice of the gritty, fearless, what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality stock car racing was built on. Stock car racing was started because of boot leggers rebelling against the law during prohibition. The combination of guts, personality, and controversy made stock car racing unique to anything else.
Jimmie Johnson is everything the executives of NASCAR want him to be. He’s well behaved, talented, clean cut, and never controversial. He’s like the New York Yankess accept without the controversy in the clubhouse. That’s one other reason race fans love to hate Johnson. His crew and his cars are undeniably the best in the business. He is constantly surrounded by a great supporting cast which always put him in position to win.
On the other hand, Jimmie serves as a superstar name for casuals to recognize and associate with NASCAR. He’s a larger-than-life link to newer fans who might not fit the die-hards choice of companion in the stands, but seem to find someone to root for and garner their interest in something they know little about. Johnson’s media coverage portrays him more and more like a word-class athlete worthy of the world’s attention. His continued success will only add to it and make non racing fans think that maybe he is someone worth watching in action, thereby turning them on to NASCAR.
Johnson is right at the gateway to greatness where the hardcore fans root for him to fall short of their heroes or become one. With the casuals he is on the verge of becoming something so extraordinary you can’t help but want to witness it. Johnson’s dominance might annoy some of the other driver’s fans or the older die-hards who want a Cowboy type like Richard Petty to come in and knock the pretty boy off his high horse but one thing is certain. The entire world of NASCAR and a healthy amount of people currently outside the world of NASCAR will tune in to see Johnson race for a record breaking eight if it ever comes to that. Even those indifferent to a certain kind of talent can’t look away from someone who could be the “Greatest of All Time”.
Wriiten by Jack Payton. Payton is a lifelong NASCAR fan who loves writing about the latest trends in the automotive world. He writes for TiresEasy, a leading supplier in quality tires for all automobiles.