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Jimmie Johnson is the new NASCAR king, now and possibly for all time

Auto RacingJimmie JohnsonStock Car RacingRichard PettyKevin HarvickTiger WoodsGeorge W. Bush

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Donovan McNabb is right. Jimmie Johnson is not an athlete.

He is much more than that.

He is one of the most dominant competitors in sports over the last decade. He's in hoity-toity company with Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Lance Armstrong.* (Sorry, Lance just got DQ'd.)

Johnson is the King of the Asphalt Jungle, an alpha dog to the puppies barking at his heels.

Johnson very likely will make it a "Six Pack" on Sunday by winning his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title in less than a decade. After a five-year run from 2006 through 2010, Johnson is in front of the pack again and not likely to give up his position barring dramatic circumstances like an accident or engine trouble.

Matt Kenseth is 28 points behind Johnson; Kevin Harvick is 34 back. The lead is all but insurmountable. Johnson can finish as low as 25th in Sunday's race to assure another championship. It won't hurt that he is in the cozy confines of Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he has seven top-10 finishes in 12 starts.

His climb to the top of the mountain has been typical for Johnson — methodical, steady, without a hint of controversy or mayhem on the track. That is the Johnson way.

This is why the biggest "story" of the week involved former NFL star quarterback McNabb, during a TV appearance, ripping Johnson and other drivers because he doesn't think they are athletes. The cheap shot is comical, considering that McNabb was once benched by Mike Shanahan in 2010 because he considered McNabb too portly to run Washington's two-minute drill.

The haters can continue to pile on because they are on the sidelines, and Johnson continues picking up victories and paychecks that put him in the rarefied air of G.O.A.T.

Greatest Of All Time.

Relax. Richard Petty has signed off on this possibility, warning everybody in the NASCAR garage that they better beef up their competitive mojo or face the possibility of Johnson winning 10 Cup titles. Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt have set the standard with seven, but that seems like an easy mark for a driver who is just 38 and in the prime of his career.

It's a long way from where he grew up, in California, the son of a blue-collar family. The Johnsons once lived in a trailer park.

Johnson now has all the perks of success, including a private jet and motor home.

He obviously had help collecting all those man toys. It's easy enough to connect the dots. Johnson drives for Rick Hendrick, owner of the top-tier team in NASCAR. His crew chief is Chad Knaus, a guy who takes it to the limit and has the fines and suspensions that reflect his commitment to push the envelope.

But ultimately, the car belongs to Johnson each and every weekend.

"He'll go down in history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest," said Richard Childress, who teamed with Earnhardt during six of his championship runs. "He's got many good years ahead of him. I think he'll set a lot of records before he decides to hang it up."

And contrary to McNabb's disparaging remarks, Johnson is treated with the reverence of somebody who is indeed special. He has had congratulatory meet-and-greets with George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Chris Robinson, lead singer of the Black Crowes, reaches out occasionally. Johnson has even partied with Snoop Dogg at South Beach, where Snoop gave him props by calling him "Double-J."

Johnson handles all the buzz with a deflective shrug of the shoulders. But don't perceive this contentment with the status quo. Johnson re-ups for the grind every year, focused on championships and not so much historical consequences.

"You go through baseball and football, basketball. Who was the greatest?" Johnson said. "It's impossible to sort it out. But if you're in that conversation, which our name has been some, I'm very proud of that and excited to be there."

The conversation will most likely escalate on Sunday.

It's good to be king.

gdiaz@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Auto RacingJimmie JohnsonStock Car RacingRichard PettyKevin HarvickTiger WoodsGeorge W. Bush
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