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Johnson award backs founder's belief

The image of a racecar driver hasn't always lent itself to inclusion among the world's elite athletes. Jimmie Johnson is helping to change that....

Perhaps the memories of Dick Trickle smoking a cigarette behind the wheel or Richard Petty streaking around the track in blue jeans and a T-shirt are hard to shake but, for whatever reason, stock car drivers - even at the highest levels - often haven't benefited from the same appreciation of their athletic abilities as have, say, Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali.

That's why Jimmie Johnson's selection by The Associated Press as its Male Athlete of the Year represents a paradigm shift in the way drivers are perceived. Johnson is the first driver to be honoured in the 79-year history of the award and, before he made his successful run at a record fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2009, he ramped up his condition and fitness program.

Though not all drivers may share the dedication to training of Johnson or Mark Martin, it's obvious that conditioning can give a driver an edge in a sport that requires a unique combination of strength, endurance, hand-eye coordination and fine and large motor skills.

In winning the honour, Johnson beat off tennis superstar Roger Federer, who won his record-breaking 15th career Grand Slam title last summer at Wimbledon and later regained his #1 world ranking, and Usain Bolt, the track and field stand-out who became the first man in history to hold the 100- and 200- metre world and Olympic titles at the same time.

Johnson's selection also validated a view long held by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr - and spelled out in a recent letter to Johnson from his son Jim France, NASCAR's vice chairman and executive vice president - that was released to the media on Monday [read here].

“Over 60 years ago, my father set out to make NASCAR part of the traditional American sports landscape,” Jim France wrote to Johnson, “He believed the recognition of drivers as athletes was a key element in validating motor racing as a legitimate sport.”

Now that Johnson has joined a group of honorees that includes Jordan, Ali, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Joe Montana, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz, Sandy Koufax, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Ben Hogan, Joe DiMaggio, Jesse Owens and Joe Louis, it would be difficult to argue otherwise.

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service



Related Pictures

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Ten-time World Series champion Yogi Berra welcomes four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson to the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, New Jersey   [pic credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images/NASCAR]
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, races to a fourth place finish Saturday night, April 9, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, races to his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career win with a victory lap and checkered flag, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory with a wave of the chequered flag Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet SS, celebrates his 77th career victory, Sunday, March 20, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Superman Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Superman Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Superman Chevrolet, celebrates after taking the chequered flag during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s / Superman Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2016 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS SS, qualifies for second position Friday, March 18, 2016 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Harvick will be joined on the front row by pole setter Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet SS, captures the pole position Friday, March 18, 2016 for a front row start in Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Dillon will be joined on the front row with Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS who qualified second. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet SS, with team owner and grandfather Richard Childress after capturing the pole position Friday, March 18, 2016 for a front row start in Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Dillon will be joined on the front row with Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS who qualified second. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet SS, captures the pole position Friday, March 18, 2016 for a front row start in Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Dillon will be joined on the front row with Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS who qualified second. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

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Matt - Unregistered

December 30, 2009 7:52 PM

Is Juan Pablo Montoyas car equal to the winners cars? Is his team equal to their teams? Maybe they don't know how to set up his car for him. I don't watch NASCAR so I am not sure. If his car/team is not equal, then that would be a contributing factor in him struggling. There's a lot of variables involved. By the same token, how would the top NASCAR guys fair in F1? Personally I think all motorsports require their own unique approaches and each have their own nuances that need to be learned.

Don - Unregistered

December 30, 2009 6:58 PM

Well, they do race on two road courses - Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen. I'd like to see more also. It takes more athletic skill and conditioning to race on road courses than ovals, but driving ovals on the ragged edge requires real driving talent. Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya and numerous other world class drivers finding out that driving one of those beasts is pretty difficult. And the drivers in NASCAR are pretty good. I bet Michael Schumacher would have a hard time driving one and competing against 42 other cars.



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