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WHAT'S WITH YOU, MAN?
JOE POSNANSKI
November 09, 2009
HEY, JIMMIE JOHNSON You're the best ever, Superman in a firesuit, a three-time NASCAR champion rolling toward your fourth straight Cup—fourth straight!—and yet you're humble and quiet and polite and nice ...
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November 09, 2009

What's With You, Man?

HEY, JIMMIE JOHNSON You're the best ever, Superman in a firesuit, a three-time NASCAR champion rolling toward your fourth straight Cup—fourth straight!—and yet you're humble and quiet and polite and nice ...

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He shrugs. People have many opinions as to why he's so good at driving. Some say it's because of the loyalty he inspires in his team. Some say it's because of the preternatural calm he displays no matter the situation. "I just think he works at it all the time," Chani says. "He's so hard on himself, and he just thinks all the time about how to get better."

"Aw," Jimmie Johnson says as he walks to the stage, "I'm easy to figure out."

— 48 —

Thirty-four years old. Jimmie Johnson stands in the Tonight Show parking lot after the taping. There was some sort of mix-up with his car. The Tonight Show people are mortified, and several of them are on cellphones at once. They are all speaking loudly. Every couple of minutes someone wanders over to Johnson to apologize. He shrugs. "It's nice out here," he says.

It is nice. The sun sets over Burbank, and there's a pleasant chill in the air, and somehow the conversation turns to sharks. Turns out Johnson knows quite a bit about sharks. He talks about the sharks he has seen up close. Lemon sharks. Hammerhead sharks. Thresher sharks. He talks about how he would like to see a great white someday. He tells how the first time he went shark diving, he dropped to the ocean floor, and he held on to a rock, and he felt absolute panic as sharks swam over him. Not long after that he went back.

"Why would you do that?" he is asked.

"Because I'm absolutely terrified of sharks," he says. "So I had to go down there. I had to face my fear."

He smiles and nods as another Tonight Show person walks over to say it will be just a few more minutes before the car arrives. The Tonight Show people have been around celebrities. They have been around sports stars. And it's clear: They don't know what to make of Johnson's calm as he waits for a car that should have been here 25 minutes ago.

"Why do you have to face your fear of sharks?" he is asked. "What difference does it make?"

Johnson glances up. "What do you mean?" he asks.

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