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Jay Busbee

Verdict on the HBO Jimmie Johnson series: fancy racin'

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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The new HBO series Jimmie Johnson 24/7: The Road To Daytona premiered this week, and where you stand on it probably depends on how much art you like in your sport. If you're one of those romantics who believe that sports is the cathedral of the body and competition purifies the soul, or whatever, you're gonna love this. If you're the type that likes grit under your nails and competition that ends with somebody bleeding and everybody dented, well, this is going to be a little antiseptic for your tastes.

The story: in the tradition of HBO reality sports series like "Hard Knocks," which follows a football team through training camp, and "24/7," which follows two boxers through their preparations for championship fights, the Jimmie Johnson series will track the 48 team through its runup to the Daytona 500 next month. The final episode will air just two days after the Daytona, so if Johnson gets into a crackup or wins the whole thing, you'll be able to watch the behind-the-scenes story before half the Daytona infield even sobers up.

For NASCAR fans, the Johnson story isn't going to surprise you too much, as you already know the main characters -- Johnson himself, his wife Chandra, and his crew chief Chad Knaus. Cameos include Rick Hendrick and the 48's crew, and if you watch closely, you'll catch a glimpse of the other three Hendrick drivers.

What's fascinating about this is the look inside the garage and shop of the 48 team. Oh, and what a garage it is. You could eat off the floor of this place. And the sheer breadth of equipment there -- parts, bodies, tools -- is simply astounding.

At the other end of the spectrum, you also get a look at the home life of the Johnsons and Knaus. (And their houses are sparkly-clean too -- doesn't anybody get dirty on the 48 team?) You can see Chad making his morning coffee and the Johnsons making dinner, a cute if rather inconsequential look behind the scenes. (You also get a look at the, uh, product used for Johnson's drug test, which is more than even the most devoted fans probably needed.)

Still, perhaps the sleekness is the point -- this elevates NASCAR beyond the stereeotyped realm of mouthy rednecks and might, just might, draw in a few new fans here and there. Precision and preparation are prized here, and it's not too tough to see how they're analogizing the machine under the hood to the human machine -- sorry, that was really cheesy -- that comes together to keep the car rolling.

Now, here's the thing -- if you're a Jimmie Johnson/Rick Hendrick hater, there's no way you're going to enjoy this. The fawning over JJ and the borderline-forced chat between him and wife Chandra will turn your stomach. But for the rest of NASCAR Nation, this is going to be a lot of fun.

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