"Clutch." In the world of stick and ball sports, the term has been used to describe the likes of John Elway, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. They’re the guys you could count on when you absolutely, positively needed a win. Jimmie Johnson – with his win at Dover – proved once again that he is NASCAR’s "Mr. Clutch." If my life depends on a driver winning a race, this is the guy I’m picking.
Watching the final laps of the Autism Speaks 400, with Johnson reeling in Tony Stewart, I am reminded of comparisons between Johnson and David Pearson. Some drivers win by racing the tires off a car. Others – like Johnson – combine good equipment with superior race management.
Did you see Johnson working the lines as he closed in on Smoke? Could you imagine what Stewart was thinking as the three-time defending champion closed the gap? Well, I can’t read minds, but I know what I’d be thinking: "Dadgummit, here he comes again." You might think at some point you’ve put Johnson away, but until the checkered flag waves, you have to know where he is at all times.
When he’s on, really on, you can’t stop him. Whereas sometimes a clever call combined with dumb luck will get you a win (see the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 for reference), it takes a sense of the moment and continually making the right choice to be a champion..
Make no mistake. Jimmie Johnson has his hands fuller than ever as he works to stave off hard chargers like Tony Stewart or a resurgent Jeff Gordon. If he is able to make a date with NASCAR history by winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship, Johnson will have truly earned it against a highly competitive field, with his stiffest competition yet.
The winner of 42 Cup races has advantages few possess. Call him clutch. Call him opportunistic. Call him lucky. Jimmie Johnson is all of these. I’m not sure he honestly cares what words you use to describe him – as long as you call him what his record reflects.
Call Jimmie Johnson a winner. Not just any winner. He’s a champion.
(Editor’s note: All Left Turns guest columnist Jim McCoy edits bump-drafts.com.)
Watch Johnson pass Stewart to win the Autism Speaks 400