The Frontstretch: Jimmie Johnson's Garage Leadership Misinterpreted By The Media by Tommy Thompson -- Thursday November 12, 2009

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Jimmie Johnson's Garage Leadership Misinterpreted By The Media

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Thursday November 12, 2009


There was certainly no shortage of accolades being heaped on the crew of Jimmie Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 by the ABC broadcast crew, lauding their impressive work following a Lap 3 accident Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. However, what was not known at the time was that the driver, who sat stoically inside his race car for more than an hour while more than a dozen crew members methodically rebuilt his mangled Chevrolet, deserved as much, if not more, of the credit for the extraordinary effort as anyone else.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. For as it was happening, Johnson’s actions seemed odd and were being viewed by others, including this writer, as downright cowardly. And I’m not alone in that opinion. Many amidst the gaggle of reporters in the garage area that day shared my view that the winner of the past three Sprint Cup Series championships remained in his seat simply to avoid facing the waiting news media.

In fact, SIRIUS XM Radio’s Claire B. Lang, one of NASCAR’s most entrenched and reliable reporters, commented during her post-race show that she overheard numerous media personalities grumbling about Johnson’s refusal to make himself available to the assembled throng around the car. Lang’s account of their remarks left little doubt that they believed Johnson was unwilling to “man up,” and was, in effect, using the sanctity of his driver’s seat to hide within plain sight of them.

Following one hour and eight minutes of repairs, Jimmie Johnson returned to the track, making numerous visits to pit row to make adjustments to his ride while ensuring that his not-quite-up-to-snuff Chevrolet would be able to maintain at least the required minimum lap times of 33.27 seconds. As a result of the No. 48 team’s effort, they were able to improve their finishing position from 43rd to 38th and gain 15 championship points that otherwise would have been lost.

Following the race, Johnson finally made himself accessible to the very news media that was grumbling hours earlier. But to the surprise of most in attendance, they learned quickly that perception is not always reality.

Jimmie Johnson is more than comfortable talking in front of the media. But when his car is sitting wrecked in the garage, chances are he’s not going to talk until after the race is over … whether you want him to or not.

“At one point Chad [Knaus – crew chief] told me to hop out of the car — he says, ‘It’s done; we’re going to have to put it on the truck,’” explained Johnson in his post-race comments.

“I didn’t want to hop out and let the crew guys think it was done. I was going to stay in it until they pushed it up on the ramp [to the team hauler]. I wanted them to keep working on it, to find a way to get it back on the track.”

Whoops – our bad! So I guess it wasn’t all about the media. Apparently, the three-time champion was busy figuring out how to make lemonade out of the lemons he had been handed in light of his goal of winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Of course, Johnson’s explanation made perfect sense. He was sending a subtle, but nonetheless effective message to his team that he was not ready to give up if they were not. His decision not to desert his post conveyed to his crew that he believed in them, and would be willing to take to the track with whatever they were able to salvage of the wreck.

Enough has probably been said about the skillful workmanship and single-mindedness that the No. 48 car, along with help from other HMS teams, demonstrated in the garage area Sunday afternoon. Really, for those of us that report and opine on the sport on a regular basis, their effort should not have come as any surprise. But for those of us that misinterpreted what went on with Johnson — failing to see the situation the way it really was — we need to backup a step and accept our error as a lesson learned.

You know, there is a saying about the word ASSUME… “It will make an ASS out of U and ME.” Yet those of us that chose to just assume what Johnson’s reasons were for not exiting his severely damaged car forgot the lesson that little ditty was conveying. One should always understand the facts of a situation before making conclusions. In hindsight, and with the benefit of Johnson’s explanation, we really were asses.

The only theory that I can muster for the immediate indictment of Johnson’s actions is that some of us have become far too cynical and willing to expect the worst when it comes to this sport. For we certainly did not take even a moment to consider any other explanation for him not wanting to answer media questions at the time. We just assumed – and looking back, we came to a really silly conclusion.

The incident has left me wondering just what level of self-importance some of us in the media believe we have reached that a multi-time champion would feel intimidated to discuss an on-track altercation that was not of his doing — especially a driver such as Jimmie Johnson, who has never been one that seems rattled by the media. In fact, most would agree that there are few drivers more skilled at fielding questions than the always-composed California native.

Looking back, of course, there was no reason, given a moment to gather himself, that Johnson would not have entertained media questions on his way to an early exit from the racetrack. And in typical Johnson style, he would have no doubt reminded everyone that he had been saying all along he did not believe [going into Texas] that the championship was locked up. He would have probably expressed his disappointment, apologized to his crew, and gave them kudos for providing him a fast race car.

In fact, depending on how talkative Johnson felt, he might have gone on to assure everyone that the No. 48 Lowe’s team would be back next week at Phoenix, and that they would be pushing as hard as they could to win the championship. Then, with a nod of his head, he would have smiled and headed off to his motorhome. That’s Jimmie Johnson’s style… and we all know it!

Nevertheless, with Johnson sitting there silently willing his crew to fix his bent race car, some of us abandoned logic and gave way to cynicism. For no good reason, except that it would have made for an easy story – had it been true.

And… that’s my view from Turn 5.

Contact Tommy Thompson

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11/12/2009 01:30 AM

Thank you for humbling yourself. Wonderful article.

11/12/2009 08:28 AM

Well .. at least thats Jimmys’ story now .
Just where do you get the idea that the rebuild of the 48 car was so masterfull ? How do we know that a number of other teams wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the same or better repairs in less time . Or for that matter , maybe other drivers would have been able to do a better job of driving and avoided crashing all together .

Ohio Kart Racer
11/12/2009 08:53 AM

Your article infers that when Johnson returned to the track that he was able to maintain minimum NA$CRAP required speed. Every other article I have read complains that he did not maintain minimum speed, and yet NA$CRAP declined to black flag him. Just like the “debris” caution that waved just as Jeff Gordon was about to go a lap down, NA$CRAP favoritism rears it’s ugly head once more !

The Turnip!
11/12/2009 09:08 AM

While the race is still goin on there is NO REASON at all that a driver be obligated to the media! Who cares how long it takes to fix the car, who cares what the problem is?

If he is indeed finished for the day, maybe a different story, but while the competition is going on!



(and I really do think the media has way to much access to drivers, the pits, and the garage areas during an event), well, I’ll qualify that, during the conducting of a REAL RACE anyway, which NA$CRAP is definitely NOT!

11/12/2009 10:04 AM

JJ determined to get back to the track and finish the race. That’s why he is 3 times champion and is on the way getting his 4th. I am a hugh Jeff Gordon fan forever, but I have to give the credit to JJ for this one.

11/12/2009 11:21 AM

Ryan no single car team could of repaired the car as fast the 4 car Hendrick team it has to do with amount of manpower and the available skillsets on the crew members. Roush, Childress and Hendrick have a unfair advantage over all single car teams because of this.

Jimbob Schwarzenheimer
11/12/2009 11:22 AM

Hey Ryan – I’m sure you could have single-handedly rebuilt that car better that the Hendrick guys did. But you wouldn’t have had to, because you can also drive way better than Jimmie Johnson and would have therefore avoided the wreck completely. You are just so dang good, aren’t you?

11/12/2009 11:44 AM

Tommy,totally agree with you about JJ – I am neither a lover or hater but we have to give credit where credit is due – To have that much confidence in yourself and your team is why he is on his way to a 4th championship – 95% of all of the other Cup drivers probably would have called it a day and gone behind the wall. The 48 team obviously realizes that EVERY point counts when the nine drivers underneath you are clammoring for the top spot.

Bob Durnell
11/12/2009 12:20 PM

To put Jimmie’s situation into context, remember that just a short couple of years ago, another Hendrick driver crashed, and then left the track while another driver took his place and finished the race. That driver was soon shown the door. The driver of the 18 car is certainly talented, maybe more talented than anyone out there, but there is a lot more to winning championships at the top levels than talent alone. Leadership and the attitude you carry around your crew during good days and bad has a lot to do with it, which may explain why Jimmie Johnson is about to win a fourth Cup title, and Kyle Busch has yet to win one at any level. As for the haters, is Johnson dull? Yeah, sure he’s probably not the life of the party. But are you telling me David Pearson was? How about thousand time most popular driver Bill Elliott? zzzzz. Dale Earnhardt? Before the mid 80’s he could barely contruct a sentence in front of a TV camera. How about the Labonte brothers? Great guys, three Cup titles betwwen them, but how exciting are they really? For those of you that don’t like Johnson for any other reason than he’s a little dull, or because he works for Rick Hendrick, you had better open their eyes. You’re missing one of the greatest stories in the history of our sport! It would be shame to be right right there when it’s happening and still not see it.

11/12/2009 12:44 PM

I figured Claire B had bad video of her boss and farm animals, how was I supposed to know she was “one of the most reliable reporters”. I learn something new every day. She should work pit road on tv with her favorite question about emotions. Oops sorry, that spot is taken.

11/12/2009 12:56 PM

As said in this article, hindsight is 20/20. That is exactly the way I am looking at this. With that said, I seriously doubt that Jimmie Johnson was thinking like that while he was sitting in the car. In my opinion, he was coached somewhere along the line to talk it up after the race was over to make it appear that way.

Of course, I don’t have the insights that all of these reporters have, but I just don’t buy the story. In my opinion, Jimmie was simply pissed off and didn’t want to talk to the media, PERIOD. Now, I don’t actually consider that to be a bad thing by any means. Actually, the team deserved to be left alone. They are, after all, still on work time and I would have hoped that the media personalities floating around would just leave them alone.

Again, this is just all my opinion. Interesting twist on the article, though. Just maybe it is right, but I have my doubts.

bobby dee
11/12/2009 02:02 PM

JJ went down another 10 laps. Not really a fast car.

11/12/2009 02:07 PM

Ever notice that Jimmie never has an in-car cam. Or a rooftop cam or any of that. There are just places the media should stay away from.

And what’s the deal with the “in race reporter”

11/12/2009 02:51 PM

Thank you for acknowledging this. I hope that some in the media are starting to see what many of Jimmie’s fans have known for a long time – he’s a much stronger presence on that team than most people realize, and a natural leader in his own right. I once had opportunity to meet one of his crew guys, and he always referred to himself as working for Jimmie (not Chad). Sunday’s race was another example of why he’s closing in on his 4th championship.

The Turnip!
11/12/2009 04:11 PM

Hey Bob Durnell,


11/12/2009 06:45 PM

how stupid ,to let your crew, work on the car, and help him beat your driver for the championship!!! will not watch the awards show to see a cheater take the trophy.!!!

11/12/2009 10:23 PM

“I didn’t want to hop out and let the crew guys think it was done. I was going to stay in it until they pushed it up on the ramp [to the team hauler]. I wanted them to keep working on it, to find a way to get it back on the track.”
Nice spin JJ and it looks like they bought it! What flavor was that, Grape or Cherry?

The Anointed One
11/12/2009 10:31 PM

I didn’t want to hop out and let everyone see my poopy diaper. Chad was busy.

Lunar Tunes
11/13/2009 11:29 AM

“…ensuring that his not-quite-up-to-snuff Chevrolet would be able to maintain at least the required minimum lap times of 33.27 seconds. As a result of the No. 48 team’s effort, they were able to improve their finishing position from 43rd to 38th and gain 15 championship points that otherwise would have been lost.”

Ohio Kart Racer is correct. The 48 never was able to obtain ‘min. speed’ as mandated by nascar, but yet, he was allowed to finish the race. Who wants to bet that anyother single car team would have been ‘black flagged’! But no, not Jimmie!

Money barks! Back markers Park!

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