If Jimmie Johnson has a good run at Talladega — far from a given considering his spotty luck there — you can basically go ahead and crown him.
Johnson enters the event with a 118-point lead over Mark Martin and 150-point edge over Jeff Gordon, and with races running down and opportunities fading for his competition, the Chevrolet driver has a fourth consecutive NASCAR Chase for the Cup championship in his sights.
My question, however, is this: Will fans ever turn on him?
You know how it works. Once a team (or an individual) starts winning titles in bunches, there always seems to be a large group of folks prepared to bring the hate.
I remember a time when the New England Patriots were just a middlin’ NFL team that didn’t rouse many emotions in anyone outside the greater Boston area. Then all of a sudden they win a Super Bowl, then another Super Bowl, and the next thing you know everyone wants to see them knocked off their perch.
No one hated the Chicago Bulls until Michael Jordan turned them into a dynasty. Then a lot of us wanted some team — any team at all— to defeat them in the NBA Finals.
For every fan that is glad to jump on the bandwagon and stay there, there are many more who simply get tired of seeing the dominant continue to dominate.
And make no mistake — Johnson has dominated NASCAR like no other person since the Chase was implemented. Yet, he has still managed to remain well liked.
Maybe it’s because racing is a different animal than most stick and ball sports. Fans have a history of hating drivers before they love them.
Dale Earnhardt once was booed at every track on the circuit before he became larger than life — and wildly popular. Same is true for Darrell Waltrip, who morphed from aggravating to adored over the years.
But Johnson? While he has sped to three titles, he’s basically remained in neutral when it comes to fans.
Not to say there aren’t many who love him — there are. It’s just odd that you never hear anyone cuss him like, oh, Kyle Busch.
Maybe it’s because he simply goes to work, does his job and goes home.
He’s honest without being controversial.
He’s vanilla — but in a good way.
Why spend your time manufacturing a personality when your personality shows up best wrapped up inside the 48 car?
If he does make it four in a row, I wonder if 2010 will be the year that casual fans start seeing him like some folks view the Patriots.
It’s human nature. We love champions and want to build them up on their way to the top, but we enjoy watching them tumble once they get there.
Johnson doesn’t look like he’s going to tumble anytime soon. And frankly, there isn’t much to dislike about him.
A good guy and a great driver, what’s there to hate?
Nothing — except those three straight titles, which will probably grow to four straight titles next month.
Contact Scott Adamson of the Anderson Independent-Mail in Anderson, S.C., at adamsonl(at)independentmail.com.