“Nobody roots for Goliath”
Truer words were never spoken. Back in the 60s, there were those NASCAR fans who pleaded for ANYONE to win a race by Richard Petty. No one dominated an era like “The King.” Fast forward 20 years, and a man named Dale Earnhardt had as many foes as fans; not only because he won six of his seven titles in a nine reign of fear, but because of his aggressive style.
Then came Jeff Gordon. The anti-Earnhardt won four titles in seven years and set a NASCAR Modern Era record by winning 13 races in 1998. He was also disliked because he WASN’T Earnhardt. After Gordon won his last title in 2001, along came Jimmie Johnson who- all together now- won not one, not two, not three, but FIVE championships in a row and then a sixth two seasons after his fifth. To make matters worse, Johnson was a Gordon protege, he raced on the same team as Gordon. Heck, the Rainbow Warrior even co-owns Johnson’s 48!
Like a lot of you, this fan rooted for ANYONE but Jimmie Johnson. Why? Oh yes, his crew chief Chad Knaus comes off as kind of smug, and Johnson? Well, he’s just, he….oh I don’t know. OK, I admit, he won too stinking much! Sure, Knaus got busted for bending a few rules, but come on, do you really think that any contending team DOESN’T push the envelope?
Time does funny things as a memory. 40 years later, and Watergate looks like your basic botched burglary. The way fans talk about Earnhardt these days, you would have never thought he was anything but angelic. Now that Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have sprinkled in championships after Johnson’s 2013 title run, and suddenly, Jimmie Johnson’s win at Charlotte doesn’t seem like such a cause for mourning.
I have a theory why my heart has softened towards Jimmie Johnson, and I suspect some of you are with me on this. Last year, one of the true greats of our era- Jeff Gordon- retired. This year, Tony Stewart will hang up his helmet. As this is being written, questions linger as to whether or not Dale Earnhardt Jr. will ever race again, and who knows if he will ever race like he did at his best?
Jimmie Johnson may well be one of the last remaining greats of the early 2000s. Kyle Busch is VERY good, but he’s never truly dominated like Johnson. In terms of Johnson’s contemporaries, names like Kenseth, Harvick and Kurt Busch will certainly be remembered. Among the other talents of the day, there’s much left remaining to be written about what they may or may not have accomplished.
Here’s another thing: Johnson may not be the most colorful character out there, but look who out other recent champions have been: Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Harvick and Kyle. All have a bit or a lot of bad boy in them. Jimmie Johnson- by comparison is more a Kenseth or Mark Martin type.
What’s more, Jimmie Johnson is what a lot of other famous sports figures are not: he’s true family man, doesn’t go out looking for conflict and he’s quick to share his good fortune with wildfire victims in his native California, or tornado victims in his wife’s home state of Oklahoma. The son of working class parents, he’s much more heartland than Hollywood.
Doggone it! I can’t root against this guy. I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. I’m not sure I’m ready for the man to go out and win number seven, but then again, if he does, I’ve been a witness to history.