From the Marbles - NASCAR

For the last five seasons, Jimmie Johnson has run the table on Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and the rest of NASCAR. And now he's put Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Shaquille O'Neal and every other big-name athlete in every sport in his rear-view mirror.

A new Forbes study ranks Johnson, a guy often slagged in NASCAR circles for being as charismatic as vanilla ice cream, as the most influential athlete in America.

Johnson is a beneficiary of great timing, with Tiger Woods falling from grace, Lance Armstrong retiring, and Olympic heroes like Phelps and Apolo Anton Ohno fading from recent memory. And while NASCAR fans may not have embraced him, to the larger American sports audience, Johnson embodies exactly the kind of everyman quality that makes athletes so influential. We may not be able to throw down thunderous dunks, we may not be married to gorgeous supermodels (well, you may not be), but we all know how to drive a car, and we can all appreciate the thrill of a guy hammering it down and passing everyone in his way.

The survey, conducted by E-Poll Market Research and Nielsen Media Research, asked respondents to consider influence, likeability and awareness of athletes across all sports. Athletes had to be known by at least 20 percent of respondents to make the cut, which knocked boxer Manny Pacquiao (only known to 12 percent) out of consideration.

As Forbes noted, "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." That pretty much sums up Johnson right there.

Athletes dropping off last year's list included Armstrong and Olympians, plus NBA players Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. LeBron James fell from No. 2 to No. 9 in the wake of his disastrous "Decision" to bail on Cleveland and play for Miami, and Tim Tebow fell from No. 3 to No. 10 after going from Florida Gators star QB to Denver Broncos pine-rider.

Interestingly, Johnson and Tom Brady rank 1-2, but guess who's third? None other than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who's even more everyman than Johnson. Closing out the top five are O'Neal and Phelps.

You'll excuse me. I have the strangest desire to go shop at Lowe's for my home improvement needs now.

NASCAR drivers lead most influential athletes [Forbes/Yahoo! Sports]

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