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Bank on it: Johnson will win Sprint Cup title again

February 15, 2009|Mike Bianchi | Bianchi is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

FROM DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — He is one of the greatest champions the sport has ever known.

He's a doggone, downright dynasty hurtling through the history books at 200 mph.

He's the New York Yankees of NASCAR.

Except there's one huge difference between the Yankees and Jimmie Johnson: You either love the Yankees or you hate them. Jimmie Johnson is too nice to hate and too uninteresting to love.

Johnson finished third in one of the Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races last week at Daytona, but it doesn't matter what happens here at the beginning of the season when you just know Johnson -- yawn -- will be challenging for the championship at the end of it. With apologies to Ben Franklin: There are three things in this life that are certain: (1) Death, (2) Taxes, (3) Jimmie Johnson methodically and mundanely turning the Sprint Cup Series into his own personal insomnia cure.

Last year, Johnson became the first driver since Cale Yarborough 30 years ago to win three consecutive points titles.

This dude is more consistent than Wonder Bread -- and about as colorful, too. In his seven years as a full-time driver, Johnson has won the championship three times, finished second twice and never finished out of the top 5. You'd think with such unbelievable success that Johnson would be the odds-on favorite to win an unprecedented fourth-consecutive championship. Instead, a media panel of NASCAR journalists picked Carl Edwards to win this year's Sprint Cup Championship. Probably just wishful thinking on their part. Let's face it, Jimmie Johnson is to provocative sound bites what Rosie O'Donnell is to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

"It's not annoying to me," the politically correct Johnson said of the media poll. "Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and if you look at the odds they're certainly stacked against us. In my opinion, we should be ranked No. 1 especially if you look at what we've done the last three years." Huh? What?

Sorry, I missed the last part of that comment. I think I must have dozed off in mid-quote. Which is easy to do when Johnson is talking. It's almost a reflex action. When Jimmie's mouth opens, your eyes just naturally close.

If only he would show some pizazz and panache. The guy is the three-time defending champion and a bunch of racing writers pick somebody else to win the championship? Unfathomable and inexcusable. Can you imagine if this snub had happened to Tony Stewart? He would have gone on a Bobby Knight rant about sports writers and said something like, "All of us learn to write in the second grade, but most of us go on to greater things." But not Johnson. He never, ever wants to offend or provoke. You know he was offended by the media slight, but can't bring himself to actually lash out and say it. He's much too corporately polished in a sport that loves its heroes rough around the edges. NASCAR fans keep searching for the next Dale Earnhardt, but Johnson gives them the next Dale Carnegie instead.

Usually, dynasties are good for sports, but not when the dynasty makes your eyes glaze over. You know who Jimmie Johnson is? He's Pete Sampras when Sampras was dominating tennis. Great player. Good guy. But booooooring! This guy's more boring than "The English Patient." Correction: He's more boring than the Tyronn Lue-for-Keith Bogans trade.

You know something is out of whack when track owners and promoters are actually suggesting that Johnson resort to vigilante violence in order to excite NASCAR fans.

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said at a news conference a few weeks ago, "We're paying the price for the corporatization of our sport. It's nothing that can't be fixed pretty quickly if Jimmie Johnson would just punch somebody in the mouth." Added billionaire track owner Bruton Smith when asked about Johnson: "Great guy. He's a neighbor. Like him a lot. Like his wife. If Jimmie would just get out of the race car and slap someone one time that would help a lot." Not going to happen.

The only thing Johnson is going to punch is his ticket for yet another title.

Gentlemen, start your insomnia cures.

In NASCAR, they no longer count sheep.

They just close their eyes and count Jimmie Johnson's championships.

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