HOMESTEAD, Fla. —
“He doesn’t have to run over people. He doesn’t have to go out and brag about what he’s done. He just shows up, does his job. Sooner or later people have to say, ‘You’re the deal.”’
Yet Johnson still fights a stereotype among many stick-and-ball types who don’t respect what he’s done.
The most recent slight came from retired NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was asked on a Fox Sports program to rank Johnson against other athletes at the top of their game. McNabb dismissed the driver as “absolutely not an athlete” because “he sits in a car and he drives, that doesn’t take being athletic.”
Fellow drivers from various series rallied to Johnson’s defense, and NASCAR fans berated McNabb on social media.
Johnson said very little on the topic, even after winning his championship.
“Yes, I am an athlete, and so is every driver in one of these race cars,” he smiled.
Ironically, Fox Sports rival ESPN will have Johnson sit in as host Tuesday night for SportsCenter, an appearance being touted as “the first athlete to guest host.”
He deserves the nod, as his accomplishments rank as high as any other current athlete.
Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant have five team championships, which Johnson has now surpassed. He’s tied with Michael Jordan, who for two years has ribbed Johnson that he had one more ring than the driver.
While Roger Federer won 16 Grand Slams in eight years, and Tiger Woods won seven majors in four years, Johnson has won all of NASCAR’s “crown jewels.” He’s won two Daytona 500s, four Brickyard 400s, Coca-Cola 600s and All-Star races, and two Southern 500s.
There are only five active tracks on the schedule where Johnson has yet to win, and one of them is Homestead, where he’s traditionally playing it safe and trying to wrap up a championship.