Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Through the first 11 races of 2014 Jimmie Johnson has had to deal with a lot of critics due to the fact that he had not yet won a race. Although a 13 race winless streak may seem like nothing for some drivers, it was something for Johnson. Through 11 races in 2014 Johnson was a victim of his own success. In every previous Sprint Cup Season Johnson had always won races early on, compared to his previous success 2014 was a considerably slow start for the six-time NASCAR champion.
Leading into this race and really for the last several weeks, Johnson has been one of the main storylines in NASCAR. Experts would question why Johnson was struggling and not winning early on whilst fans were bashing him and saying that he had lost a step. Sunday night at the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte Johnson showed the NASCAR world that all was well by winning for a record seventh time at that track. The Coca Cola 600 win was his first of 2014 and all but guarantees Johnson a spot in the 2014 chase.
One would think that winning a race would quell some of the critics; however it did just the opposite. Sunday night the outcry was for how Johnson only won because of the late caution and of course that led to the obligatory accusation that Johnson is a cheater and didn’t earn his championships. The hatred for Johnson is real and I can assure you that it runs deep for most fans who like a different driver. The reason behind all of the hate is quite simple though; success breeds hatred.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Quick, throughout NASCAR history who are some of the most hated drivers?
I am willing to bet that names like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon all came to mind assuming that none of them are your favorite driver. What is it that all those drivers have in common? They were all very successful and won numerous championships.
In the 60’s and 70’s many fans who didn’t root for Petty truly hated the man. A lot of fans viewed Petty as someone who didn’t deserve his championships. This might sound insane to say now but at the time it was true. In the 80’s and early 90’s it was Dale Earnhardt. While Earnhardt was winning championships he was hated because of the way that he drove. Fans felt that he was too aggressive on the track and some felt that was cheating. Some fans hated Earnhardt because they felt that NASCAR was backing his success because they wanted to be seen as aggressive and edgy; which is obviously the way that Earnhardt raced.
After Earnhardt was Gordon, Gordon was the polar opposite of Earnhardt and was hated almost instantly. Gordon was successful early and often in his career and non-Gordon fans couldn’t stand it. They would hurl homophobic slurs his way (and some still do) and tell him that people that looked and spoke like him didn’t belong in the sport.
Do you think people would have cared this much about Gordon had he not been winning four championships and 13 races in a single season?
Then along came Johnson. Johnson won five championships in a row. Johnson dominated the sport in a way that has never been seen before. With all of Johnson’s success came the same hatred that the sports other most-successful drivers had to deal with. When it comes to Johnson it is very simple, his success makes non-Johnson fans hate him. Every fan wants their driver to win championships and every fans wants someone to root against. When one driver is winning all of the championships, it’s very easy to make him the guy that you hate and want to see fail.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Success breeds hatred in all sports, not just NASCAR. Look at the New York Yankees in baseball or the New England Patriots in football. In basketball there are the Lakers and Celtics and then in golf you have Tiger Woods. All of those teams along with Woods are generally hated by anyone that isn’t specifically a fan. The one thing that Woods and all of those teams have in common is that they are all very successful and have won multiple championships.
If that caution came out Sunday night and Jamie McMurray had gone onto win the race the only people who may have made noise about it would have been some Carl Edwards fans. However, McMurray did not win and Johnson did and now it’s a race that was rigged because NASCAR needed to get Johnson a win. At times I wonder if some of these fans even think before saying some of the stuff that comes out of their mouths.
One of the greatest things about sports in general is that you are free to cheer for who you like and boo for those that you don’t. That is a sacred right that I don’t think should ever be taken away from a sports fan. However there are also times in sports where regardless of who you cheer for, some people and some teams accomplish something that simply should earn them respect. In the world of NASCAR, Johnson winning five titles in a row was historic and something the sport will most likely never see again. An accomplishment like that deserves respect. If and when he wins a seventh, eighth or ninth championship, those also deserve respect.
If you’re going to blindly hate someone for being better than everyone else, the least you can do is acknowledge their greatness. Johnson like so many others before him and like others will be after him, is hated because he is great and it truly is that simple.