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Jimmie Johnson opens up


He was as relaxed as ever, nibbling on a chocolate candy bar and gazing out the window of his second-floor office at Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie Johnson was about to meet several hundred members of the media for the first time on the 2010 NASCAR media tour, which unofficially kicks off the season, but now in the quiet of his spacious office, he assessed his chances for winning an unprecedented fifth straight Cup title this year.

"I feel as good about our team now as I ever have," Johnson said last Wednesday afternoon. "We have more depth on our team than ever before and we've got everyone coming back. And when I look back at last year, there are so many tracks where we lost points we shouldn't have, places like Bristol and Kansas and Texas. I know this: Somebody is going to have to beat us and out-race us, because we're not going to leave anything on the table."

It has been a quiet offseason for Johnson. Aside from trips to the islands of St. Barts and Cabo, he's mostly stayed holed up in his sprawling home in south Charlotte with his wife Chandra, who is pregnant with their first child (due in July). "There were days when I stayed in my pajamas from morning to night, and it was awesome," Johnson says. "We're used to having very aggressive travel plans in the offseason and always being on the go and doing and seeing things, but with Chani being pregnant we took it easy. I even had time to clean out my closet."

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The pace of life in the Johnson household has picked up recently with the filming of 24/7 Jimmie Johnson: Race to Daytona, a four-part HBO documentary on his preparations for the Daytona 500. The documentary will air for the first time on January 26. Cameras and microphones have followed him, his wife, and his team, and the crew of 15 to 20 has recently filmed scenes such as Johnson taking a drug test, meeting with his team, and hanging out at home watching football. The idea for the series was Johnson's.

"I've been a huge fan of the 24/7 shows and of the Hard Knocks shows and I thought it would be cool to bring that concept to a race team," he says. "My wife and I had watched the Hatton-Mayweather 24/7. She had never watched a fight before in her life, but the show pulled her in and we ended up buying the fight and she really got into it. I'm hoping this show kind of does the same thing with people who may not be huge NASCAR fans. Hopefully they'll get pulled into it and we can make some new NASCAR fans."

Will the cameras reveal any of the tightly-guarded setup secrets of Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus? "That chance is there," Johnson says, "and that's something that Chad and HBO are working on to say, 'Okay, where's that balance of showing what goes on behind the scenes, the tools we use, how we use them, to paint the right picture for the fans?' I mean there's a touchy balance there that we've got to work through."

Johnson is often accused of being robotic and lacking personality. Reporters, in fact, have been writing this story for five years, even though it completely lacks merit, in my opinion. Johnson is acutely aware of this perception -- a perception he hopes the show will change. "We've never given anyone unlimited access into our lives before," he says. "I just want people to see what we're really like. I think it's going to be pretty cool." will be checking in with Johnson throughout the airing of show, getting his thoughts on how the documentary is unfolding. Will it be cool? We'll soon find out.