Jimmie Johnson Taking Time to Savor Fifth Championship in Las Vegas
Forget the historic five NASCAR titles, Johnson now has a video game named after him: "Jimmie Johnson's Anything With an Engine."
The game doesn't go on sale until 2011, but the concept launch this week meant the vivid collision between two of America's favorite pastimes, video gaming and NASCAR. And it was interesting to observe the hip, young gaming reporters, dressed in black adorned with lots of zippers and skull designs and colorful tattoos, sizing up the NASCAR All-American good guy's entry into their eclectic world.
"So how does it feel to be a legend?'' asked Jon Carnage, a former professional wrestler who is now a reporter from the video game blog Destructoid. He clearly caught the humble Johnson off guard.
"It's still strange to me that I hear that,'' Johnson replied.
Perhaps he should get used to it.
"We essentially got a free limo ride last night just because we mentioned to the manager at this club that we were going to interview Jimmie Johnson,'' Carnage explained later with a laugh. "The guy was a huge fan and turns out our limo driver's 11-year-old son is a huge fan.
There you have it. Maybe it's a sign that the rest of America is catching on to Johnson's rightful place among athletic accomplishments. In 2009, he became the first NASCAR driver ever named the Associated Press's Athlete of the Year. And his five straight titles in the most competitive era of NASCAR racing will likely never be duplicated.
At only 35 years old and the odds-on favorite for 2011, Johnson has a very legitimate chance of equaling or surpassing the seven championships won by Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Unlike the previous four championship years, Johnson trailed in the standings -- 15 points to Denny Hamlin -- entering the Nov. 21 season finale. And still the ever-underappreciated veteran pulled it off and, as significantly, won over some lingering doubters who wanted to see him "work for it."
Yet for all the drama and hard work title No. 5 produced, the likeable, low-key Southern Californian said he's celebrated less and savored more.
"It's probably been less from a 'doing' standpoint, if that makes sense, and more of internalizing what's going on,'' said Johnson, explaining the difference between his fifth title and the previous four.
"It's been more of talking to my wife about what we've done. (Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and I have had more moments this year to sit down and talk about what's gone on, so it's been deeper -- more than a 'going nuts' kinda thing.''
The fact that Johnson lent his name and creative support to the video game was a big step for the champ, who despite all his success and celebrity hasn't built up a massive portfolio of endorsements.
"There's been plenty of opportunities for me to take on endorsement projects and licensing products and all this other stuff that's come along,'' Johnson said. "I've just been sitting still really wanting to do something that was fun, something that I liked and wanted to be a part of.
"This kind of explains why there hasn't been as much endorsement stuff going on in the past year. My free time has been in this area developing this game.
"I just wanted a fun game that I could see my friends sitting around playing.''
A legend just having fun ... having lots of fun.