Cain: Johnson’s Texas win, attitude remind us why he’s a true champion

first_imgBUY TICKETS: See the races at Bristol All these seasons (16), all these Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win trophies (81) and all those Hall of Fame-ready championships (seven) later, the perpetually good-natured Jimmie Johnson can still smile when people wonder if his success train has derailed. Even a bit.His victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway – now giving him a winner’s cowboy hat for every day of the week — simultaneously assured his fans all is well with an automatic playoff bid and left the others to mutter, “Here we go again.”Yep. Here we go again and what a historical ride this could be.To be fair, this has been the statistically slowest start to a season in his career. Even after his win Sunday he’s ranked a surprisingly low 11th – up three spots from last week.After the season-opening six races leading into Texas produced “Johnson subpar” results, there was plenty of speculation that the multi-time and reigning champion No. 48 team might have finally recessed a bit. That the group might have become “human” – you know, found itself mired in a  … “slump.”If you can really consider six races without a trophy, a slump, for Pete’s sake.RELATED: Johnson rallies, corrals Texas win At no point during the early season did Johnson or his fearless team leader, crew chief Chad Knaus, appear worried, however. They met all their media requirements – with a smile. And even after a qualifying gaffe just this Friday at Texas, there was no panic.It was sort of similar to the 2016 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when NASCAR officials discovered a last minute, technical concern on the car. The team had to push the Chevrolet off the starting grid, go through inspection again and Johnson lined up last for the season-finale, championship-determining green flag.Again, no panic on the team.Johnson methodically worked his way back toward the front at Miami, took the lead with three laps of extra time remaining and drove off to earn his record-tying seventh Cup title – a championship tally many believe will never happen again in the sport. Yet, it’s a number Johnson may well add to.It was brilliant work — and even more dramatic considering the obstacles the team had to overcome. But it was of little surprise to those that know this group best.”I think there’s a little bit of vintage 48 in that,” Knaus conceded Sunday at Texas. “It seems as though we have in times of turmoil and distress managed to get some pretty solid finishes with the 48 car, and I think that’s a true testament to Jimmie and his ability to not waver.”He doesn’t get spooked. He doesn’t get too crazy. He keeps his calm. He’s very calm in nature as we all know. So him doing that and allowing us to work on the race car the way that we need to without panic setting in, I think there’s definitely an element to that. We love a challenge.”And the team has had its share in the early portion of this season.That’s why being Jimmie Johnson is such a bonus – a perpetually under-appreciated advantage.The El Cajon, California, native remains calm, cool and collected no matter the size of the challenge.And it’s actually a good lesson for all of us who are less inclined to breathe and set-in.Even after requiring three bags of IV fluid following a steamy race and malfunction with Johnson’s in-car drinking system at Texas on Sunday, he still fulfilled a winner’s obligation for a press conference.RELATED: Johnson taken to infield care center after Texas win </p> After hearing about how “off” Johnson felt in Victory Lane, some in the media center were quite sure he would understandably beg off. He had done all the television and radio interviews while in Victory Lane, after all.But no, nearly two hours after the race, Johnson came in and answered all the interview questions anyone had. All class.My question was the same to Knaus and later to Johnson. What’s the secret in keeping so cool under so much pressure, to achieving ultimate excellence when odds are toughest?”There certainly is a mindset that works for everyone, and for me, much more on the reserved side has always paid off for me,” Johnson said. “It may be the environment. At Homestead, kind of reacting to things and keeping me under control was good. And today was good.”I feel like at times when I start up front or we’ve had a dominant weekend, you’re kind of expected to perform, and you can try too hard easily in this sport. I don’t know exactly, but maybe there is something, and kind of just being knocked down a notch, like ‘OK, this is going to be a working man’s day,’ we’re going to have to fight through a lot, stay calm, identify with 100 percent, because again, it’s very easy to step over that line and bust your butt, from a pit call being too aggressive, too aggressive on pit lane in the car, passing other cars like we did today. “I had to be so patient, and in the end, the patience kind of paid off for me.”It did. Again.And now, somewhere on a beach in Mexico, Johnson is vacationing with his family during NASCAR’s Easter off-week. He joked Sunday that he planned to indulge in Mexican food, get a tan (or sunburn, he worried) and most likely, enjoy a margarita. Or two.So here’s a toast to you Jimmie.Congrats on the way you keep bringing it, racing like you’re trying to earn your first win. All while reminding everyone why you are such a true champion.last_img