This is an article from the Sept. 27, 2010 issue
REIGNING NASCAR CHAMPION
The new father, and winner of the last four Cup titles, finished 25th on Sunday at New Hampshire in the first race of the Chase
Dan Patrick:Do you feel like an underdog this year?
Jimmie Johnson: You know, we've been in this position before entering the Chase, where people thought there was something wrong. We've had a slow summer. We had a slow summer last year. But the Chase is a different environment, and our team responds very well to pressure. The tracks in the Chase are good for our team. I haven't been as concerned as the headlines have [suggested]. I feel like we're ... actually ahead of where we were last year at this point.
DP:What if you won the title and they found out you did something wrong. Would you give it back?
JJ: At the end of the day, if NASCAR comes back and says they're taking it, you're going to be disappointed and humiliated for whatever it was that led to that.
DP:But in NASCAR there's a fine line between cheating and not cheating. You're trying to get away with as much as you can.
JJ: Back in the '70s and '80s there was some really creative, crafty stuff going on. But this latest car that NASCAR brought out has really eliminated all gray areas. Today's world is so overregulated. Yes, our job is to read the rule book and look for loopholes and push stuff to the limit, but in the last five years there's just really nowhere to look anymore.
DP:Finish this statement: I will not win my fifth straight title if ...
JJ: I beat myself.
DP:That's the only way you can lose?
JJ: We know what to do. We've been there before. There are a lot of strong teams. I find that if I worry about other people, I take my attention away from the job I need to do.
DP:How often are you recognized on the streets of New York?
JJ: Not quite as much as in our hometown of Charlotte. It's a little different. But there are plenty of race fans in the city, which is cool to see each time we come up here.
DP:Do you get second looks when people think you're somebody but aren't sure?
JJ: Yesterday actually I left a media function and we were waiting for the car outside, and two guys stopped and said, 'Man, you look a lot like that race car driver Jimmie Johnson.'
DP:Do you have a fantasy football team?
JJ: I've been a part of it [in the past]. But this year I decided not to.
DP:Why? You busy with something?
JJ: We just had a baby 10 weeks ago, and it's amazing how much things have changed.
DP:How quickly can you change a diaper?
JJ: Recently I had a diaper not do its job entirely, and I found that some of it ended up on me. And it's amazing how when that happens the pace picks up dramatically. I felt like my pit crew at that point.
DP:That humbles you. You can be special on the racetrack, but when your child pees on you it just doesn't matter.
JJ: When it's your kid, you're like, 'O.K. Cool. Not a problem.' You get engaged. Get in the middle of it, and if it ends up on you, oh well.
DP:Do you have a diaper sponsorship yet?
JJ: No, but thanks for bringing it up. Maybe someone listening will set one up.
• It's His World
Fresh off a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships, coach Mike Krzyzewski was raving about Team USA's newest star, saying, "I love Kevin Durant." Coach K says that the 21-year-old Thunder star is at the same level as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant: "He leads by example. He embraced the process to become a more physical player in the international game and became an outstanding defender... . He's one of the top five players in the world right now."
• Cash Flow
Charles Barkley wishes Reggie Bush hadn't returned his Heisman. The TNT analyst says college athletes have always taken money from agents. "I [did] when I was in college [at Auburn], and that was in the '80s. Most of the players I know borrowed money from agents. The colleges don't give us anything. If they give you an extra pair of sneakers, they get in trouble. Why can't an agent lend me some money and I pay him back after I graduate?"
• Line of the week
Buffalo Bills rookie running back C.J. Spiller on the moment he realized that playing in the NFL was different from playing in college.
"When I saw the D linemen running fast. I can't just shoot around these guys like I did at Clemson."
THE FINE PRINT: Petco Park will host Oktoberfest, a pregame beer-tasting event, on Sept. 24. David Wells will throw out the first stein.
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. Two-time Defensive POY Dwight Howard talks hoops.
2. Oregon coach Chip Kelly on Ducks football.