Racing enthusiasts would understand it if the first man to win five consecutive NASCAR Cup Championships might show just a flare of cockiness – just a glimmer of self-satisfied arrogance.
In fact, underdog fans looking for a bad guy to root against might hope that the reigning Cup champion play the role of the oval track’s super villain.
Unfortunately for the drama hounds, they’re unlikely to find that central casting heel in Jimmie Johnson. With the Daytona 500 approaching and stock car experts placing him as a favorite for an unprecedented sixth Sprint Cup Championship, Johnson took a break from Daytona preparation to talk about the target on his back and his opportunity to design his own racing video game.
Johnson lent his name and his racing enthusiasm to Autumn Games’ Anything with an Engine. The console title blends NASCAR elements with Mario Kart gameplay, offering players a chance to race a wheeled bomb with a souped-up riding lawnmower. Since Johnson is famed for building cars out of whatever is at hand as a hobby, the country’s most successful and precise professional driver and a game of complete mayhem seems a happy, if unlikely marriage.
CraveOnline: How go preparations for the Daytona 500?
Jimmie Johnson: They’re going great. We’re making preparations, and the crew is working with the car. We’re in drivers’ meetings now, so there’s a lot of activity around me down here.
CraveOnline: The NASCAR off-season is very short before the Daytona 500 gets it all rolling again. Do you ever have any downtime away from cars or racing?
Jimmie Johnson: Not a lot, but I do take time off for the holidays. But, there’s not a lot of downtime to be had. For example, I worked right up to Dec. 23 this year and was back at it on the 3rd of January. Whether it’s race preparation or training or business meetings, it’s pretty constant.
CraveOnline: As you go after your sixth straight Sprint Cup, what do you credit your success to year after year? Is it the car? The driver? The crew? A mix?
Jimmie Johnson: I think success always comes down to the people I’m surrounded with at the track and on the racing team. The relationship I have with my crew chief and my team – the hard work they all do – enables us to squeeze everything we possibly can out of the car.
CraveOnline: You have a target on your back. You’re obviously the man to beat in every race every week and in the overall Cup chase. Since sports fans love to cheer for the underdog, do you ever wonder if you’ll be cast as the villain by NASCAR fans?
Jimmie Johnson: NASCAR fans are very knowledgable and very passionate. They have their favorite drivers and cars to root for every week, and that’s what makes NASCAR great. It’s them. My fans are always extremely loyal. As we’ve had our success, it’s grown by leaps and bounds.
At the same time, I haven’t got the sense that I’ve got a lot of fans rooting against me. They’re just out they’re rooting for their guy. I always have the sense that there’s a lot of respect from the NASCAR fans over what we’ve managed to accomplish.
CraveOnline: There’s a lot of discussion amongst fans and the media over the new points system put in place this year to determine the Race for the Cup. What’s your take on it?
Jimmie Johnson: It’s fairly similar, if you look at how a point is calculated. I think it’s a simplification that could help. If you add up last year’s numbers with the new system, the result works out to be the same, so I don’t consider it that big of an issue. But, the way the new system works, if you have a bad day, you are punished for it. It becomes crucial to eliminate those bad days.
CraveOnline: After five straight championships, is there anyone out there you’re really concerned with as a possible challenger?
Jimmie Johnson: Every off-season gives other teams a chance to catch up to us. But, the way Carl Edwards was running at the end of last year was impressive. I know his strengths because I’ve been Cup races with him the past, and he has a lot of them. I admire his crew chief and how they work together. I think Carl is back on track and my most serious threat.
CraveOnline: How did you end up getting involved with Anything with an Engine?
Jimmie Johnson: I’ve always wanted to get involved with designing a video game. When I heard about the concept of this one, it sounded great. Fortunately, the success I’ve had open some doors for me to get into that. I was involved with Autumn creating the concept, and they’d send me builds to play while it was in development. It’s been an awesome experience.
A lot of my history is in the game. I grew up racing on random dirt tracks in California, and all of those tracks are in the game. I own motorized bar stools. I’ve seen bathtubs races in Mission Bay. All of that is layered through the game.
CraveOnline: The two most dominant drivers of this generation have to be you in NASCAR and Michael Schumacher in Formula One. Has there ever been discussion of a showdown between you two somehow?
Jimmie Johnson: No. It’s never come up, but it’d be interesting. Our cars are so different, though. We’d have to settle on the car we’d both drive. Maybe we could try a go-kart race.
Photo credit – http://www.lowesracing.com