The Frontstretch: Could Johnson Hatred Boil Down to Something More? by Summer Bedgood -- Monday November 18, 2013

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Could Johnson Hatred Boil Down to Something More?

Summer Bedgood · Monday November 18, 2013


It all happened the way we expected it to. No surprises or plot twists. Not even a dramatic last lap something-or-other that made us briefly question our reality. It all happened just about the way we thought it would. Alright, so that one restart where Jimmie Johnson fell outside of the top 20 probably made us think we might have a shot at an exciting championship, right before he crushed those dreams by quickly recovering and making his way back up to the top 10.

Still, though, other than that brief little hiccup, there really were no surprises. And, if you’re like me, you knew that the contact with Matt Kenseth would only turn out to be a way to rally back for that No. 48 team. Deep down—whether you love them or hate them—you knew they would find a way. And they did. Johnson finished ninth in a race where he needed only to finish 23rd or better. Though I’m not one to brag, I did say that I thought the team would ride around and finish somewhere around eighth in the final running order to win it. Kudos to them.

However, I didn’t think Johnson’s championship would be met with very many meaningful expressions of congratulations. Not only was it extremely predictable, but it’s the sixth time in the past eight seasons that we’ve seen the exact same result. It wasn’t the same scenario as last season where a young driver won his first career championship, or the one before that where two drivers literally tied for a championship. No. This was one extremely dominant team that has already aggravated many of NASCAR’s fans by their tendency to show up and spoil the show. The last thing they wanted was to see them win another championship in a way that was pretty boring.

So imagine my surprise when, as Johnson exited the car, he wasn’t met by vitriolic, poisonous jeers. All I heard was … applause. Cheers. People were genuinely cheering when he got out of the car. If people were boo-ing, I certainly couldn’t hear them.

What I found even more astounding was the reaction on social media, which was generally positive too. Oh, sure, there were the naysayers whose comments boiled down to these three things:

“He’ll never be as good as Richard Petty or Dale Sr. because …. [more races, harder cars, different times, whatever].”
“He’s only a three time champion because of the Chase!” (My personal favorite. Because, you know, the other drivers in the field weren’t playing by the exact same rules.)
“Gosh, Jimmie Johnson is ruining this sport, I’m never watching again, NASCAR is going away!!!!”

Like I said, though, I only saw a handful of those comments. Even then, some of those fans who weren’t very happy about Johnson winning the championship still congratulated him and seemed genuinely happy for him. It was rather bizarre watching another Jimmie Johnson championship, and yet my timeline was full of support and excitement.

I couldn’t figure out why… Until I started to sniffle … and get a little misty-eyed.

Now listen here. I don’t do that. I can sit through some stupid, tear-jerker chick flick and sit there stone-faced. I didn’t cry during Old Yeller or any of the heartless Disney movies where they kill one of the parents off. I’m looking at you, Bambi. The Lion King. You know who you are…

But I must have gotten caught up in the moment or something, because when Johnson hugged his wife and daughter in front of the cameras, I got more teary-eyed than I think I should have. I watched the whole ceremony and enjoyed it, though in fairness, I also enjoyed the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series celebrations, too. There is something gratifying about watching dreams come true, don’t you think?

Apparently I wasn’t the only one, though, because I continued to see mostly positive comments. I was thoroughly confused by it, but then I realized they were enjoying it for the same reason I was: It’s not Jimmie Johnson that fans have a problem with.

Now, now…. calm down. I don’t intend to speak for every single person. But I have a theory here, and I want to run with it.

Do you really dislike Johnson? I mean, do you really? I would argue that there are several of you who used to say some of the same things about Jeff Gordon back in his heyday, but now smile whenever he makes it to victory lane.

It’s not Johnson that people hate. It’s the concept. It’s the Chase. The numbers. The fact that he just won’t go away.

But when the curtains come down, the trophies go away, and the smoke from a bad-ass burnout finally drifts away, it’s really, really hard not to like Johnson. He doesn’t come off as cocky or full of himself like other drivers, and I believe him when he says that he doesn’t intend to. Though you won’t see him jumping up and down in Victory Lane, sobbing in front of a mic, or giggling like a nine-year-old meeting Justin Bieber, he seemed genuinely excited and grateful to be having the kind of success he is. He savors each championship.

That’s why, before the race, people were absolutely losing their minds because they already knew the ending, then completely fell all over themselves in happiness, because it was hard not to share in the smiles of a team that accomplished something that very few ever have before.

I’m not saying anyone wanted to see Johnson win the championship. Goodness knows that I wanted an exciting battle just as badly as anyone, and I think any fan who doesn’t claim Johnson as a favorite driver wants to see someone else pull it off for once. I don’t blame you and I don’t really think that’s too much to ask. That’s enough “greatness” for one decade, you know?

But when grown men are having trouble containing themselves because of a goal that they’ve reached, it’s hard not to be happy for them. Even the coldest of hearts have to smile at those emotional family moments in Homestead each year.

And to those fans who disagree with everything I’ve said … Please don’t yell at me. Just this once. I’m not saying that you should love Johnson or that you are obligated to be happy for him. But I don’t believe that you genuinely have this sort of passionate hatred you seem to drag around every time his name comes up. I think you’re just sick of him and don’t like the rules in which he won it under. That’s your right. But this mystery of fans actually congratulating a driver despite the fact that the he was the last person they wanted to see win was just a fascinating one to me, and the only reason I think that this happened was that it’s not Johnson that fans have the problem with.

Oh, and by the way, if you were one of those fans who expressed some congratulations despite the fact that you’re sick of that whole team … good for you. Sometimes the hearts of race fans expand beyond their original capacity, and that’s a good thing.

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11/18/2013 09:26 AM

It’s not like most of the fans, hate,J.J the person, altho, I, have never liked him, even in asa, races, which I went to! The, true race fan, knows,how , the team got the championships, not won!!!!! NASCAR IS DEAD!!!

11/18/2013 09:41 AM

Fair article. Yet as “awesome” as the 48 is, it doesn’t move the needle outside the nascar world.

There’s a reason why BSPN is leaving nascar. There’s a reason why nascar doesn’t give out attendance figures anymore.

Nascar has serious issues with integrity, fairness, and boredom. Having JJ win another championship is the very LAST thing nascar (and the chase system) needed.

Call me a “hater”….but I’m just keep’n it real.

If word EVER got out that nascar is and/or has thrown fake debris cautions, it’s all over.

Carl D.
11/18/2013 09:51 AM

Love him or hate him (or just hate seeing him win all the time), you have to give his team their due. They are the best at what they do. It’s not up to Johnson to “just go away”, as you put it. It’s up to 42 other drivers to beat him for the championship and they just can’t seem to get it done. I can at least take some consolation in the fact that my favorite driver last year managed to beat Johnson and win the trophy. If your favorite driver hasn’t done that, maybe you’re just pulling for the wrong guy.

11/18/2013 10:22 AM

I don’t have any favorite drivers, I just like racing. You hit the nail right on the head; I like Johnson but I despise the chase and the idiots who conjured it up. Johnson is a superb driver with really good car control and quite frankly, if we ever go back to all the races counting for the championship I expect he will continue to win. Congratulations.

11/18/2013 10:39 AM

Wait until Jimmy & the 48 hit that OH SO REAL NASCAR SLUMP that all the greats ( Richard Petty , Dale SR , Jeff Gordon even old DW )have when they could not win a 2 car race and see how he handles things.

11/18/2013 12:32 PM

Get misty eyed for anyone related to HMS, I will never do. Yesterday followed the script of what this sport has become hollow, phony and shallow. A corporate driver puppet who never mixes it up with anyone, clean air and bye bye..rocket fuel. A crew chief who cheats, a owner who is a convicted/pardoned felon and a greedy/incompetent owner of the sport who loves all things HMS. How can you root or love that combo? They do not inspire admiration or integrity to me and my fmaily. A big money team who the rules never seem to apply, with them its “innovation”, everybody else “cheats”.

I will take a real winner after 36 races, not a reset winner who is the best out of 10.

11/18/2013 12:43 PM

The Chase format coinciding with Jimmie’s run I think drives a big part of the hate. One of the promises of the Chase is that it would make it hard for one team to dominate. The Chase gives a great team like that basically a mulligan to have some bad races in the first 26. However, this hate isn’t close to what Gordon experienced. I haven’t seen a crowd litter a track with garbage after a Jimmie win.

Carl D.
11/18/2013 12:55 PM

I’m as sick of Johnson winning as the next person but some facts speak for themselves…

1. If there was no chase Johnson would have won this year’s title by 41 points (Jayski).

2. There is nothing to support the various claims that Brian France favors Johnson over the other drivers or Hendrick over the other owners.

3. The rules are the same for every driver and every team.

11/18/2013 03:42 PM

Of course the rules are the same for everybody Carl, that has never been the issue, the issue is selective enforcement of “punishment” if those rules are “broken”. Nascar has a consistency problem that 99% of the fans notice, but Nascar does not. Doesn’t bode well for their image or belief of honesty in the sanctioning body.

Tim S.
11/18/2013 03:49 PM

Carl D, normally I like your perspective on things, but man, “pulling for the wrong guy”? Unless you like Stewart, Kurt Busch or Keselowski, just shut up and become a Johnson fan? I don’t think you’re going to convince many people to do that.

Carl D.
11/18/2013 04:13 PM

Tim S…

You’re absolutely right. I think I’m just in a lousy mood today because of the whole “6-Time” crap. I’m frustrated that other teams can’t seem to find the same horse-power and the same edge that the #48 team finds almost every race. Tomorrow I will be a kinder, gentler Carl D.

11/18/2013 05:11 PM

I can’t muster any anger over JJ’s championship, and I’ve been a longtime hater. I realized a few weeks ago that the 48 absolutely deserved the 2013 title, regardless of whether they actually won it. JJ had the best car in what seemed like half the races this year, and he could have easily won 10 races if not for mistakes like he made at Dover and Michigan. 2013 was maybe the strongest the 48 team has ever been, and you have to respect that. I don’t think I’ve turned into a 48 fan, but I doubt I’ll ever root against Jimmie quite as strongly again.

Tim S.
11/18/2013 05:24 PM

Carl D,

No need to be kinder or gentler. I’ve never been a fan of the organization and I’m well and truly sick of Johnson, Knaus, and all things Hendrick. I should change my screen name to “Hendrick Fatigue.”

Sue Rarick
11/18/2013 05:49 PM

I’m old enough to remember people hating Petty for winning so much and hating Earnhardt for winning so much and the list can go on about a set number of people hating others dominate. Petty used cheater engines, Earnhardt raced dirty and now it’s the Chase for Johnson.

You can’t argue with losers that hate winners.

Ken Smith
11/18/2013 06:03 PM

Greg hit the nail on the head up there – every driver – no matter who it is gets to the point where they are no longer winning. I used to hate Gordon when he was winning all the time, but used to tell my friends the day would come when he would no longer win all the time. Have been around racing long enough to know that. The day will also come when JJ will no longer be winning championships – or even races – there is always a young gun coming along to take their place. Hope I live long enough to see that day !! By the way, Mark Martin retired again! No – wait ! He might drive the 14 at Daytona is Tony isn’t back yet. Oh! Wait again! He might drive selected races for MWR !!

11/18/2013 06:18 PM

Sigh, I am seeing alot of “people hate when someone wins alot” excuses, that is a big no..sorry. It’s like Nascar saying consistently that the main reason there are empty seats because the economy is poor…Ah, no again.

* * * * * *
11/18/2013 06:40 PM


Kevin in SoCal
11/18/2013 07:06 PM

I firmly believe we would not be having this negative conversation about NASCAR, the Chase, etc, if it was Dale Jr who won 6 championships in 8 years.

Jumbo Badasso
11/18/2013 07:11 PM

Like they say in Law and Order “It’s the perception of impropriety.”

Brian had a very good financial season.

11/19/2013 05:46 PM

The whole series has become a shadow of what it once was, a 10 race championship… really? What a joke. Fact is the fans have made a statement with their wallets. Sponsors have also made a statement by leaving the sport. What is great about it anymore?
ATTENTION NASCAR… Your product is a failure; seek help before it is a footnote in American History.
P.S. Continuing to tell us “ole 10 race” is on par with past greats isn’t the answer.