This is an article from the March 4, 2013 issue
After finishing no higher than 27th in his last six Daytona 500s, JJ was hardly considered the man to beat on Sunday, when he won the Great American Race for the second time.
DAN PATRICK:What was going through your mind on the last lap?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My biggest concern was [Greg Biffle] getting a run on us. Halfway through the lap I had him under control. I was surprised that [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] got a big shove. I was really just staring in the mirror, trying to manage the cars behind me.
DP:Does your mirror say, "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear," just like mine?
JJ: The mirror in the center of my car is the correct mirror. The one on the left side is a convex mirror like the one on your car. That does lead to some wrecks in our sport.
DP:What did you think when you saw Junior behind you?
JJ: My spotter's voice was kind of animated, so I felt like I was in trouble. My eyes were telling me I had him in control.
DP:What did your spotter sound like?
JJ: He had that animated, high-pitched, desperate, we-have-to-do-something tone.
DP:Isn't it natural to panic a little when your spotter alerts you?
JJ: It is. I think for any athlete, things slow down to a certain degree. I knew what was going on. With this rules package, it's a little easier to defend the lead than in years past.
DP:Why do you think ratings were up 30 percent?
JJ: That's all due to the 48 car winning the race.
DP:Do you really think that was it?
JJ: Absolutely. There was this Danica girl in the race, but that had nothing to do with it. It was all the 48.
DP:What do you think of all the hype Danica Patrick got?
JJ: I'm excited for her to be in our sport. She brings in the casual fan who typically doesn't tune in for our races on Sunday afternoon. I don't look at gender or race or anything in our cars. It's about what the driver is capable of. As time has gone on, she's really evolved. I think restrictor plate racing really fits her style and her experience level. She's used to going fast from the open-wheel cars and clearly showed no fear yesterday. Some tracks are going to challenge her, and you might not see that performance every time. But she's proven to everyone she's very competent.
DP:Did the crash last Saturday that injured people in the crowd overshadow the race?
JJ: Yes, and on a lot of levels it should. It shocked us all.... The speed is controlled by the restrictor plates to prevent things like that from happening. Unfortunately that was a perfect storm to get the car airborne. Fans come to be entertained and shouldn't be in harm's way. NASCAR understands that and will do the right thing.
DP:Did people forget about you heading into Daytona?
JJ: Our record on restrictor plate tracks over the last couple of years took us out of the forefront of people's minds. We felt confident. But Lady Luck has to shine on you on those plate tracks, and she did this week.
NASCAR's Denny Hamlin told me he has suffered at least one concussion on the track and admitted drivers are hesitant to mention their injuries. "We really can't afford to be taken out of the car," Hamlin said. "Our sponsors rely on us. There is no backup. We're careful at times with information." ... I asked Danica Patrick: If you had a daughter, would you want her to race? "It's just a generally tough job," Patrick said. "I think we all hope we have a golfer or something like that... Given the bloodlines, there's a strong chance [she'd be a driver]." ... Former Lakers G.M. Jerry West looked back on how he and late owner Jerry Buss brought Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to L.A. "We got lucky," West said. "That's what you need, particularly today. It's a lot more complex, a lot more about money. We always seemed to be in the right place at the right time." ... I asked Michael Phelps if he would trade some of his Olympic glory to improve his golf game. "I'd give up a bronze to shoot under 70," Phelps said. "I don't know [about the golds]. I worked too hard for them."