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« Will Jimmie Johnson’s big lead impact TV ratings of NASCAR season finale? | Main | Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton have served NASCAR well »

Why don’t more fans like Jimmie Johnson?

By admin | November 13, 2013

Even when he gets “crazy”, Jimmie Johnson still comes off as too vanilla for some.

By Richard Allen

Typically, when an athlete dominates a sport, he develops a large following of (for lack of a better term) bandwagon fans. Hats, jerseys and other items spring up all over the place with that player’s name or number emblazoned on it. The same can usually be said about teams that go on formidable championship runs.

As an example, look at the number of Lebron James/Miami Heat items that have appeared in areas far from south Florida. And, there are a significant number of Alabama Crimson Tide jerseys popping up outside the state of Alabama as well(on people who just a couple of years ago were wearing Florida Gators apparel). This pattern repeats itself as champions come and go.

But strangely enough, Jimmie Johnson has gone on a run of success that has lasted longer and has been more impressive than virtually any seen in team sports over the past couple of decades. The NASCAR driver has won five Sprint Cup titles(consecutively between 2006 and 2010). He has also won a very impressive 66 races over a relatively short period of time, including the biggest events the sport has to offer.

Yet with all that success, he has never grown to be a particular fan favorite in the same way similar champions such as Michael Jordon or Tiger Woods did. Johnson does have a significant following, but there are a number of drivers who have more backers. All three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates quite likely have more supporters. Competitors such as Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick seem to get more cheers during driver introductions than ‘Ole Five Time’.

Why is that the case?

In a highly unscientific poll I recently conducted on my website, I asked if the fact that Johnson had such a big lead in the standings would cause fans to not watch NASCAR’s season finale in Miami. Of those who responded, 56%(190 voters) said they would not watch simply because of the possibility of a sixth championship for the driver of car #48.

Conversely, when the Miami Heat were on the verge of clinching a second NBA title last June, Game 7 of that series drew the second highest rating ever for an NBA game on the ABC network.

Is it that Johnson’s personality is just too “vanilla” to attract even the bandwagon fans who seek to support winners? That word has been one to plague the driver over the course of his career. He is rarely controversial, always quick to mention the right sponsors, and never one to stir the pot.

In today’s society, those are typically not the qualities sought in a celebrity.

But aside from the bandwagon types, hardcore NASCAR followers don’t flock to Johnson either. Maybe he has been too successful for the tastes of those who support other drivers which may have caused those fans to view him as more of an enemy.

Also, those who follow NASCAR more closely seem to have a tendency view Johnson as more of a product of his team and crew chief Chad Knaus than as a top driver. Despite his incredible record, this driver has never really seemed to get as much credit as other who have achieved similar feats. Perhaps fans don’t appreciate him enough.

Jimmie Johnson could very well win his sixth Sprint Cup title in the very short time period of eight years this Sunday at the Homestead- Miami Speedway. But for whatever the reason, he just doesn’t attract fans like other champions tend to do.

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18 Responses to “Why don’t more fans like Jimmie Johnson?”

  1. Russ Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Maybe it says as much about the fans as it does Johnson.

  2. sal Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Maybe fans just aren’t as impressed with someone who has won 5 titles in the abbreviated version of today’s ‘chase’. It doesn’t seem to me that lots of people really hate JJ, it’s just that he stirs little emotion at all for a lot of people. I take nothing away from his talent and the expertise of his team, but what is so exciting about being a 5 time 10 race champ?

  3. Lee Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Hard to root for him seeing who his boss is. In Nascars eyes HMS “work in the grey areas, are innovators, push the envelope..etc”. Those same colorful words do not apply to other teams, they are deemed “cheaters”. Jimmie never engages anybody in a battle, its rocket fuel and he is off, so I don’t see him being on par with “the greats”. Also crowing a champion after 10 races is the dumbest thing I have ever seen. Don’t like him or the whole HMS crew, never will. Oh there are many reasons……

  4. jerseygirl Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I’ll go with what Sal said.

  5. MblZep Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    “What are you prepared to do?”
    Remember that quote from “The Untouchables”? That’s the question to ask all the other Sprint Cup drivers. Year after year its the same scenario- Jimmie and somebody else, or maybe a couple of somebody elses, going after the championship. It’s always someone different, never a chance for a real rivalry to develop between Jimmie and anybody. When is the last time a driver other than Jimmie was in contention to win the championship with three races to go, two years in a row? Stewart, the Busch Brothers, Edwards, Kenseth- there is a whole lot ot talent in the Sprint Cup, but only Jimmie is consistently in contention. I think it breaks down to what Jimmie, Chad and the 48 team are prepared to do to win, and the rest of the field is slow catching on to this simple fact.

  6. Rob Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    No offense, but I think the media may be at fault. A drawback to the Chase is they follow primarily only the Chase/top contenders for the Championship at the end of the season. Sunday I watched RaceDay, the pre-race, and the race; Bobby LaBonte’s LAST Cup appearance was only briefly mentioned towards the end of the race. Didn’t hear much about Jeff Burton or Mark Martin either.

    So indirectly at least, it may not be JJ people are indifferent to, it’s the lack of coverage that other favorite drivers are getting.

  7. Andy Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    Have you ever seem him drive anything driving anything other that a Sprint Cup car?
    He usually crashes.

  8. Andy Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Sorry, other than.

  9. jo-jr Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    agree with lee 100%…the biggest reason is because most fans, know he did not win those five championships…he got them!! stopped going to all the races because, we already know, who is going to get the win or wind up at the end of season with the most points. dumbest, chase they have ever had. fans have left in droves! nascar is dead because of hms! when nascar let an owner have more than one or two teams, that was the beginning of the end!! six championships is one huge joke! . for that team!!!

  10. Alexander Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I think why fans don’t like Johnson is because his championship success epitomizes what they don’t like about the sport today, the chase. I myself have been say the whole week that Johnson is not in fact going for a 6th championship but instead just his third (’06, ‘09 and ‘13). The format introduced in 2004 has career defining accomplishments by many drivers. Gordon going for a record tying 7th championship had he been given his titles in ‘04 and ‘07. Harvick taking Childress to the top again in 2010 after an excellent season. And Roush cementing their place in history with two more championships from Edwards ‘08 and ‘11.

    The chase is a terrible decision. And the hatred fans like myself feel towards it is reflecting on the respect Jimmie Johnson deserves.

  11. Tony Geinzer Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Obviously, I think a lot of it is Southern Californian, Respect, even if he is going to break Richard Petty’s Record, or Richie Evans or Frank Kimmel’s, and Rick Hendrick. I think with the Young Guns Seasons, you had bigger names who weren’t Cup Champions from 1999-2004, and it doesn’t mean their Mark Martin, but, I would like to see Sprint Cup Future more than Past and or Present.

  12. Bill B Says:
    November 14th, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain my feelings towards Johnson but I believe Alexander might be on to something. Jimmie and the chase are synonymous at this point in time. People hate the chase and if there is one driver that has benefited more from that format than Johnson point him out. So there is a bit of a transitive property going on here… Chase = Johnson, Hate = Chase, therefore Johnson = Hate. Although, at least for me, while I hate the chase, that word is way to strong for my feeling towards Johnson. Let’s just say “dislike with extreme prejudice”.

  13. not5for48 Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 12:13 am

    I think Alexander hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Fans do not like the chase.

    It seems that the chase was tailored for JJ.

    The dislike of the chase is channeled into a dislike for Johnson.

  14. Stephen Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I don’t *hate* JJ, but I don’t cheer when he wins. He’s given superior equipment and has one of the best CCs in the business and that’s that. Championships all around. I don’t know if it’s the Chase or what, but I want to see the day where five or six drivers stay in legitimate contention for the title until the final lap at Homestead. As far as the driver himself, there’s not a lot to like or dislike. He’s just…there. No fighting, no rocking the boat, just there, doing a great job every week. There’s not much I can get behind there.

    I actively dislike, however, when KyBu wins in the lower series. He can drive the doors off of anything. He’s proven that, great. Now focus on your Cup efforts and let some other drivers win.

  15. GreenEyedLilo Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 10:41 am

    To expand on my Twitter comments, maybe in a generation or so, fans will appreciate just how dominating Johnson, Knaus, and Hendrick were as a combination. (And I credit Knaus and Hendrick as much as Johnson–it’s just a fantastic team.) They are reliable, solid, and well-engineered, week after week. That said, my coffeemaker is also reliable, solid, and well-engineered. I appreciate that very much. But I’m not interested in spending 6 hours of my life that I’ll never get back watching it every week, nevermind buying a $100 ticket, renting a van, and getting gas money to go see it.

  16. Leto Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    It’s really simple: People don’t appreciate it when teams win a lot. What JJ and the 48 team has done since he entered Cup full-time is simply amazing.

    Say what you want about the Chase not being a ‘real’ championship or whatever nonsense you want to spout, ask any driver in the garage whether they consider a Chase championship a ‘real’ championship or not.

    Not to mention, it’s much more difficult to win a Chase title. You have to be absolutely perfect for 10 weeks. Any minor slip-ups could result in your title hopes being completely ruined. With 36 events, you know that you will likely have a few bad races that will even out over the season. You can have a bad race or two and still be in contention. You can’t have that with the Chase- one bad race and suddenly you’re 50 points behind and fighting a serious uphill battle.

    If fans want to say that it’s because his team cheats, remember that between June 2007 and February 2012 (the last 2 penalties on the 48 car), the 48 team- and all of HMS, I believe- wasn’t penalized for a single tech inspection violation. Yet nearly every other team in the garage basically had at least one, and several teams had multiple rules violations. The ‘cheater’ moniker is just another thing that people who hate that the entire 48 group simply dominate use as a desperate plea for attention.

    It’s sad though how few people can actually appreciate the history that they are watching on track. Jimmie Johnson has a very realistic chance of not only passing Gordon for #3 on the all-time wins list, but he could potentially pass David Pearson for #2 if he races until 2020 (which, according to him appears to be unlikely). Those that don’t appreciate what he’s doing on the track right now are probably the same ones that in 20-30 years will be talking with fondness about how they remember the days when Jimmie was dominating.

  17. RacingFan Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    In the early years of the Chase, I could sense that Jimmy’s team was focusing on the setups for the Chase tracks all season. They would also focus upon a few other races during the regular season to go for a win and get Jimmy’s lifetime win total to increase. But at most regular season races, they would just use the “Hendrick setup” and settle for a top 5 or 10. That allowed them more time to work on the Chase setups.

    This strategy was brilliant. Other teams have wised up and tried to copy it, but haven’t seemed to succeed with it like Jimmy’s team. (Matt’s team wasn’t prepared for Phoenix). Unfortunately for the fan, this strategy has led to a lot of dull regular season races. Their gain is our loss.

  18. Get Smart Says:
    November 15th, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Nothing today makes you a legend, that is decided after the driver has finished his work in NASCAR, I cannot imagine JJ not being seen as a legend. I do not pull for him, just to let you know. However, during the last 7 years, of watching drivers lead races and know that JJ is pursuing them, they seem to be afraid. I have seen JJ close in on a leader like a jaguar after prey. I have seen him set up a race leader in so many ways, then pass them without putting them in the wall. This is where I think he is legendary. When Dale Sr. set up the same fear in a driver, in front of him, he did it differently. He was old school, move or I move you. After the race, he would say, I didn’t mean to spin him out. Dale is legendary for that. His peers knew that and his fans loved it, If he were a rookie driver today, using those tactics, he would be black balled by drivers, just like Montoya, and he would not have had that many championships. However, he would still have a huge fan base. Fans are appreciative of old school racing. It is a “racing thing” as drivers put it so eloquently. “5 time” is not my driver, Dale Sr. was not either but they both deserve their place in the annals of Nascar legends. Richard Petty is the King and he was in a different era where teams could be more creative in how they would prepare a car for a race. That time has sadly ended. The cars are now so closely matched that it is hard to pass another driver if he or she, is halfway experienced. We now have to look at 3 second differences in pit stops, RESTARTS of all things, fuel and tire strategy and cheating to often determine the outcome of a race. I will keep watching Nascar as it is my favorite sport. I hope drivers like JJ continue to rise to the top. We need heroes and villains.