His appearances at the White House have become so frequent, the President has suggested Jimmie Johnson get his own parking space. Barack Obama did add two stipulations: the six-time champion can’t steal the Commander-In-Chief’s parking space, and no burn outs allowed on the portico. As Johnson was honored Wednesday at the White House, Obama referred to the Californian as the “Michael Jordan of NASCAR.”
It’s a fitting title. Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying Jordan transcended basketball. Around the world, the leader of the six-time champion Chicago Bulls was the face of not just the NBA, but basketball in general. It wasn’t as though he didn’t have his flaws, but he was a model of hard work and basketball excellence to the non-basketball world.
In the world of NASCAR, Johnson has his detractors, but like it or not, he is good on behalf of NASCAR to the non-NASCAR world. There’s still a lingering perception of NASCAR (though inaccurate) being the sport of beer swilling rednecks. Though yours truly considers himself a member of the pick-up truck and Duck Dynasty set, we all know that doesn’t paint the entire picture of NASCAR Nation. Cut from the Jeff Gordon mold, Johnson represents another no less significant portion of NASCAR-dom.
Johnson’s dominance may not sell in the Carolinas, but the numbers show his star has risen, and he’s a beloved figure over here on the Left Coast. Putting driver preferences aside, what’s not to like? The ladies consider him a good-looking guy, he’s dedicated family man, Johnson and his wife Chandra have generously given to Southern California wildfire victims as well as to tornado victims in Chandi Johnson’s native Oklahoma. The face of the 48 team is articulate, positive, and though he is perceived as vanilla, the truth is- and it comes out from time to time- that Johnson can be a fun guy who is not adverse to cutting loose and having fun.
Say what you will about crew chief Chad Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick, the Jimmie Johnson and company got where they are today with all those trophies and 69 Cup wins thanks to talent and hard work. Nobody here is asking you to like him; there are numerous options in terms of personalities ranging from Tony Stewart to Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Carl Edwards. To each his own. Jimmie Johnson represents NASCAR well to the outside world. He and teammate Earnhardt are two among five nominees for “Driver of the Year” Award at the ESPYs. Should the defending champion win, you know he will be gracious and his presence may well pique the curiosity of a sports loving public he may well wonder what this NASCAR thing is all about.