Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Dallas Motorsports [Print without images]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
What makes Johnson 'most influential athlete'

By Eddie Gossage

Hey, Jimmie Johnson fans -- it looks like the majority of sports fans share your opinion about Mr. Five-time.

Forbes magazine recently released its “most influential athletes” of 2011, and Double J is at the top! In addition, two other NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are included. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ranked third and Jeff Gordon eighth.

First of all, I need to point out that all three drivers are previous winners at The Great American Speedway, and all three wins were very monumental in these drivers’ careers. Gordon snapped a 47-race personal winless streak dating to 2007 with his victory in the 2009 Samsung 500, and Earnhardt Jr. posted his first Sprint Cup win in the 2000 DIRECTV 500 -- the first win for a Sprint Cup rookie at TMS. For Johnson, winning the 2007 Dickies 500 helped him earn his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship two weeks later.

Second, this is big news for NASCAR as a whole and tells us that folks are paying more attention to our sport this year. Why? Consider the competition so far this season. The first 10 races have exhibited eight different winners, two of which were underdogs and earned their first career wins -- Trevor Bayne at Daytona and Regan Smith this past weekend at Darlington.

So what makes Johnson the “most influential athlete” of 2011? Forbes’ Tom Van Riper says, “Talent is just part of what makes an athlete 'influential' to the public. Endorsements and media attention, along with off-the-field image all factor in. In short, has the player raised interest in the sport he plays?

“The polling shows certain qualities help a player win influence with the public: being intensely competitive without ostentation, and valuing winning above calling attention to yourself. And [mostly] avoiding big controversies off the field.”

Sounds like Johnson to me. A clean-cut guy obsessed with winning who doesn’t try to draw attention to himself. His main concern is his performance on the race track, and this mentality has earned him five consecutive championships.

Cheers, Jimmie.