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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