Sunday, November 22, 2009

This Champ's Not So Vanilla After All

When you get down to the sugar and the shonuff, Jimmie Johnson isn't so vanilla.

In what may have been the longest day of his life, Johnson fought through his emotions, a bevy of track traffic and even a teammate's lackluster day to clinch a ground-breaking fourth Sprint Cup title.

With his on-the-pole start, it first seemed like Johnson would cruise through the race in dominating fashion, easily snagging the necessary top 25 finish. But his day would prove to be far from a walk in the park - in the early going of Homestead, Johnson had a rocky road indeed.

In early restarts, Johnson found himself farther back in traffic than he liked. And when Clint Bowyer drove too close for Johnson's comfort, JJ accused Bowyer of promising to work with him before the race only to act differently on the track. He then asked his spotter to go have a talk with the offending team. "Got an awesome car besides the #33 trying to screw with me forever," Johnson heatedly declared over the team's radio.

In reply, Chad Knaus refused to bite, managing his driver with a measure of calm that would turn the Dalai Lama pea green with envy. "I don't want to start anything," Knaus answered without a trace of anxiety. Then, with soothing level-headedness, he encouraged Johnson to be focused and methodical while throwing in a few compliments about his driver's performance at the wheel.

Talk about a lesson in people skills.

Then there was Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch who both raced the #48 hard, thus inciting a few four-letter invectives from the Hendrick champ. At one point, Kurt Busch's pit road shenanigans led Knaus to have a talk with fellow crew chief Pat Tryson.

Finally, in what may be a real-time snapshot of the past giving way to the future - Johnson let a struggling Jeff Gordon by him for a needed position, only to complain a few laps later when Gordon couldn't pull far enough away from his Lowe's Chevy. "He's pedalling as hard as he can," was the response of Johnson's spotter.

Yes it was nerve-wracking. Yes it was frustrating. But in the end, Johnson's day ended with fireworks, burnouts and a champagne-soaked leap into the history books.

And he did it all without a hint of vanilla.


  1. Yay Yimmy. He raced to the end. But you know what really won me over to the boy? Hearing that he'd grown up in a trailer park ... authentic NASCAR roots, no matter what neck of the USA you grow up in.

  2. The greatest of all time is the best way to describe him.

    I'm very proud of him and the entire 48 team.