Maybe he’s an alien. Yeah, that’s it.
Jimmie Johnson must be from the planet Thun-Dar in some galaxy far, far away, sent here by his parents in a small spaceship – numbered 48 – as their planet was about to explode.
Even the name is suspicious, right? Jimmie? How often do you see it spelled like that? Very suspect.
A nice farming couple discovered him, adopted him, put him on their tractor, set it on high speed – and the rest is history.
How else to explain this guy?
A quick look at some statistics provides enough evidence to convict. Five straight Sprint Cup championships. Nineteen wins in 70 Chase races (no human has more than eight). In 70 Chase races, 54 top-10 finishes.
Through his history in Chase competition, Johnson has led 3,423 laps. Matt Kenseth is a very, very distant second at 1,715.
Even the Carolina Panthers could win with those numbers.
So now we once again find Johnson here in Las Vegas, perhaps the most alien city in America, to be saluted for his “one for the thumb,” the fifth title he nailed down in comeback fashion two weeks ago in south Florida.
Tuesday in Vegas, he made the rounds of various news media outlets, answering the same questions he’s heard hundreds of times since winning the title Nov. 21 (and thousands of times, since he does this every year). At mid-afternoon, sitting with friends in a corner lounge in the Wynn hotel-casino, host to Friday night’s big awards bash, he looked fresh and relaxed, as if he’d just returned from a month’s vacation. If he’s tired, nervous, overwhelmed, frazzled – any of those things that often happen to regular folk who are asked to repeatedly perform at high levels under big pressure and then go on a seemingly never-ending tour talking about it, you can’t see it in Johnson’s face.
Wednesday, on a sun-splashed day on the Vegas Strip, he was back at it.
As he always seems to do on the track, he steps to the plate in these public situations. And he hits home runs.
“It’s been one heck of a run,” Johnson said. “I’m very proud of what I do in the car. This year was a challenge. A lot of teams had speed. Sometimes we didn’t. But we found a way to dig deep, went to Homestead, finished second and won (the title)."
“Before the Chase was over, people were saying we hadn’t had to race for a championship (because he has had big leads), but, either way, this team has done amazing things.”
Crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson’s partner in all this, says his driver has answered the bell every time, even when challenged.
“Obviously, his skill sets are way superior,” Knaus said. “He’s so much better than a lot of people give him credit for. Look at his demeanor. He doesn’t lose his cool. Sometimes you have to be cunning, and he does a very good job at that. He does a good job of keeping his head up and his wits about him.”
Perhaps amazingly, there are things that Johnson can NOT do. He insists that he is not among those drivers who can virtually crew-chief a race from inside the car, plotting strategy, figuring fuel mileage, making tire-pressure calculations and keeping the whole race scene in his head. But he doesn’t have to do that. That’s what Knaus does so well.
Johnson also said he has no plans to join the NASCAR car owner ranks. He doesn’t want to race against Rick Hendrick, who seems to have that part of the sport pretty well figured out, and he wants to devote the extra time and space he has to his wife and baby daughter.
And, anyway, there are more titles to be won.
“I have no idea if we can keep it going,” said Johnson, now widely expected to match the record seven championships won by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. “There are so many things that can go wrong.”
Very true. But, on this planet, Jimmie Johnson seems to not be one of them.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.