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Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Jimmie Johnson on triathlons, 48, his beard

By Lynn Hoppes

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson signified his fourth victory at the Brickyard in Indianapolis on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson, who won Sunday's Brickyard 400 for the fourth time, stopped by ESPN's offices on Tuesday to talk about NASCAR's Sprint Cup race and what's ahead. Johnson is in fourth place in the overall standings with six races remaining until the start of the Chase for the Cup.

Johnson gladly played along with Playbook for some offbeat questions.

I saw on Twitter photos of you in a triathlon in South Carolina on July 8. What was that about?

The start instagr.am/p/M0vC0-Epb2/

— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) July 8, 2012


"I swam in high school and I've recently been into cycling and running. Last fall, I got back into the pool from a training standpoint because I was bored with my other workouts. So I got this idea about doing a triathlon. I needed to find an event on a Sunday after a Saturday night race. Once I signed up, another driver, Kasey Kahne, joined in. Then some crew members. Before we knew it, we had 20 guys doing it. And even your ESPN partner Marty Smith. Glad he didn't drown on the swim. We had a great time. You have so much pride after finishing an event like that. I've already signed up for my next one for December."

The bike instagr.am/p/M0vMOAkpb-/

— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) July 8, 2012
You swam and played water polo in high school in California. Could you have turned pro in those sports?

"No. I wasn't all that good. I enjoyed myself. I did it to keep out of trouble. The school had a great swim team and a strong water polo team. But I was just one of the kids in the pool."

If you weren't racing, what would you be doing?

"Growing up in Southern California, there are a lot of fires. Being a fireman was my point of interest. If racing didn't work out, I would have done that."

You started out riding motorcycles. Have you done that recently?

"I haven't ridden in a long time. I'm afraid of falling and getting hurt and affecting my day job."

Excuse me, you're driving a car 200 mph now.

"But I have a roll cage! It protects the body! If I got hurt riding a bike, [team owner] Mr. Hendrick and Lowe's are not going to think too highly of that. You have to be smart."

Hendrick/Johnson
Jimmie Johnson, who has won five Sprint Cup Series crowns, talks with team owner Rick Hendrick.

You worked with HBO on a reality show in 2010. Would you do one again with the emphasis of your personal life?


"No, I would not. On that '24/7' show with HBO, I told myself it wasn't a reality show. I thought it was more documentary style. But ultimately it is a reality show. I was doing it to speak to a different audience. I wanted to bring in new fans to my sport. It was odd having people in my house for five weeks. It took awhile to get used to, but it was a great experience."

If you were NASCAR president, what changes would you make in your sport?

"I'd eliminate some races and give us more off weekends. We work way too much."

What is your favorite track on the circuit?

"Dover Downs in Delaware. The racetrack is elevated on the straightaway by about 20 feet so you're airborne when you come into the corners. It's really only a mile track. And you complete a lap in 20 seconds. That's pretty rad."

How did you come up with the No. 48?

"When you join a team, you can select a number. Hendrick wanted me to have 23 to go in order of their cars. I didn't really dig the 23. I had a lot of success as a kid with No. 4 and No. 8 so I put them together. I made the suggestion and they bought into it."

Do you still get confused with the other Jimmy Johnson, the famous former football coach?

"Not too much. Forever, people have been spelling my name with a 'y.' I saw Jimmy not too long ago and he said people were now spelling his name with an 'ie.' I think I finally shifted the tide on how to spell Jimmie!"

OK, today you're here with the beard. Beard or no beard? What does the family say?

"If mama didn't like it, it wouldn't be here. Now, my grandmother and some other family members don't like it. But my wife loves it. So it lives on."