This is an article from the Dec. 6, 2010 issue
FIVE-TIME NASCAR CHAMPION
The El Cajon, Calif., native came from 15 points behind in the standings on the final day of the season to pass Denny Hamlin for the title
Dan Patrick:Are you good at any other sports?
Jimmie Johnson: No. I attempt to play golf, but that really just doesn't work out for me. I swam and played water polo in high school. Growing up in Southern California, swimming was a big thing at our school [Granite Hills High]. But I really wasn't good at stick-and-ball stuff. It just hasn't been my thing.
DP:Did you have to shave your body when you played water polo?
JJ: For league finals we did, yeah. That was not fun.
DP:And you wore the Speedo comfortably?
JJ: Nope. I started racing my senior year of high school at the professional level. The coaches found out and thought there would be a conflict, with school sports being an amateur situation, and they booted me off the team. At that point, my Speedo disappeared forever.
DP:So NASCAR's gain was water polo's loss?
JJ: Well, they may have been happy to see me leave.
DP:Your postrace celebration after you won the championship at Homestead was a little awkward, with Carl Edwards winning the race. He was doing backflips in the smoke from your burnouts.
JJ: Yeah. I kind of felt bad, like I was messing with his moment as the race winner. Typically the race winner gets first shot at his little thing. I was planning on doing some doughnuts around his race car, and as I was trying to set that up, I saw him climbing out and I said, Oh, yeah—he does that backflip thing. I need to get out of here so I don't run him over.
DP:Would you consider giving me a lawn job? Just a couple of doughnuts with your car?
JJ: Oh, man. I could do some great work on your grass.
DP:Can you do designs? Would it be like the movie Signs, where there would be an emblem there in my yard?
JJ: I've never done it, but I could work on a routine for you.
DP:Could you ever wear a black hat in NASCAR and be the bad guy or the villain?
JJ: The villain? I guess everybody, if somebody makes you mad enough, anything is possible. But I don't think I'm the villain.
DP:But now you're the Yankees. You're Duke basketball. Right?
JJ: No. I'm Jimmie Johnson. I think my story is different. But those are amazing teams and references. I am awfully proud of what we've accomplished, and there's still a lot more we can do.
DP:You seemed to be putting pressure on [points leader] Denny Hamlin at that press conference before the final race of the season at Homestead. Like, Hey, this guy seems a little uptight. Were you doing that on purpose?
JJ: Yeah. Without a doubt. At the end of the day I have a ton of respect for Denny and what his team has done. So I don't want to be arrogant and get up there and take cheap shots at people, but I've been the points leader going into the final race. I know how much pressure is on a team's shoulders and a driver's shoulders. And I just wanted to take the time to point it out to him that at some point it was going to hit him like a ton of bricks. And if I could [turn up the pressure], then, yeah, I was glad to help him with it.
• Trey Bien
Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, whose father, Dell, knocked down 1,245 NBA three-pointers, knows all about gunning from downtown. When I asked Stephen—a 43.2% shooter from beyond the arc—which player he thinks is the best three-point shooter in the game, he named former Golden State teammate Anthony Morrow (now with the Nets): "Every time he has a wide-open three, you can just go down on the other end and play defense, because it's going in. Automatic."
• Holiday Toast
The Lions dropped their seventh straight Thanksgiving Day game, losing to the Patriots 45--24. I asked NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen if he thinks the league would ever rotate the Thanksgiving game away from Detroit, the site of the holiday's kickoff game since 1945. "I have spoken to some executives who would love relegation," he said. "You would have to have two or three years above .500 [to keep the date]."
• Line of the week
Fox NFL analyst Tony Siragusa on the transformation of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick: "When I saw Michael Vick in the preseason, I thought they should cut him. Now he's the most explosive guy in the NFL."
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. Mark Wahlberg talks about his upcoming film, The Fighter.
2. Antonio Gates talks about the Chargers' souped-up offense.
THE FINE PRINT: President Obama received 12 stitches after taking an elbow in a pick-up hoops game. Sadly, his health-care plan doesn't cover flagrant fouls.