From the Marbles - NASCAR

Normally, when emails show up in my inbox on Friday evening, they sit alone and unloved until Sunday night. But when an email arrives asking if you'd like to talk to two-time reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, well, that'll make you pay attention no matter when it shows up.

Wednesday afternoon, Jimmie was in Times Square for the culmination of the Gatorade Tiger Moonshot Challenge, a contest in which golfers tried to replicate Tiger's infamous moon shot commercial. Previous contests were held in places like San Diego, Dallas and Chicago, and notables like LaDainian Tomlinson, Tommie Harris and Jason Terry talked with my Yahoo! colleagues along the way.

So now it was my turn.

Jimmie, welcome to Yahoo! and From The Marbles. How's the Moonshot event going?

Great so far. I've just gotten here. We're set up right in the middle of Times Square. It's extremely cool.

Have you hit yet?

Not yet. I've strategically waited until after the interview is done so no one knows what my distance is.

Good call. What's your handicap?

As much as anyone will give me. That's what I've learned about golf; negotiate well before you tee off. But I am a 21, a registered 21.

Have you taken any of your fellow drivers out on the links?

A few of us play on Saturdays. We take time after Happy Hour; a few of the crew chiefs and drivers will sneak out. We play as much as we possibly can.

Who's a good player that you wouldn't expect?

Dale Jarrett is by far the best driver golfer that I've ever seen. Really, really strong. I'd say Elliott Sadler would be another one who's surprisingly good. Juan Pablo is pretty good; he's another guy that wouldn't strike you as a golfer when you see him, but he's the sleeper of the bunch.

Okay, we probably ought to talk NASCAR at some point. What do you think of the tracks coming up?

One of the toughest has always been Sonoma [California], and that's right around the corner. We're hopeful to change our luck there. Michigan's been a great track for me, but we don't have a win there. Hopefully we can change that. After that, I think we go to Loudon [New Hampshire] next; is that right?


All I know is the next two [laughs]. Loudon has a lot of pressure on it. We'll be kicking things off in the Chase at Loudon [in September] so this first one's important for all of us.

Obviously, you're not going to win every race. How do you control your emotions when it becomes obvious that you're not going to win?

There are so many things that go on through the course of a race. If you're running up front all day long, and when the checkered flag's about to drop, you're not in position, it's tough to control your emotions. But if you're running 15th and you finish 5th, you'll have a good outlook on the day because you seized an opportunity at the end and pulled off a good finish. A lot of it just depends on where you're running throughout the day. The racer in me wants to win all the time, but when we run 38 a year like we do, and the competition is as tough as it is, it's really unfair to have that kind of goal, to win every event.

Who's poised to break out in the second half of the season?

I really feel like we are. I feel we're on the cusp of doing some great things to get back to where we were in '06 and '07. We've won one this year, but we're sorting out the big tracks and we're right there. We're getting close.

You and Casey Mears went driving in the desert recently. What vehicle would you like to drive that you haven't already?

I would say an F1 car. I like the whole concept of the open-wheel cars. I've never driven one, but the power-to-weight ratio and the downforce that those cars have - I'd really like to experience that. And then I'd say World Rally Car beyond that.

If you could put a new track anywhere in the world, where would it be? Paris? Tokyo?

It's hard for me to think of our sport anywhere outside the United States. I think we're really needing a track in the Manhattan market, in the New York City market. That would be very important for our sport. We have some races in the surrounding areas, but I think we could lose some of those and have a New York race. That would be very helpful.

I also think the Northwest would really suit a race. We have a lot of fans from up there that travel a long distance to see us. I think there's a huge hole up there that we need to fill.

What kind of car do you drive when you're not driving the 48?

I have a bunch of old cars that I've collected. My everyday car would be a Chevy Tahoe, but we also have a '68 Camaro, a Corvette my wife was given by Chevrolet, and a '51 Merc.

Who's faster on the highways, you or your wife?

Me, by far. My wife is very cautious.

Do you just go insane on the highway when you have to stay below 70?

[Laughs] As long as I'm passing someone, it doesn't matter if I'm running 5 or 55.

You met the president earlier this year. How did that go?

It was a great experience, it really was. Very few athletes have the chance to be brought into the White House. Winning the championship the last two years, this was my second time. It's really an honor and an eye-opening experience.

In what way?

You're there with The Man. You're in the Oval Office, walking through these historic halls, walking across the South Lawn -- it's really cool to be a part of it.

Did he put on that helmet you gave him?

No, the time we spent with him was rather brief. It was pretty quick. We really appreciated the time we had, but we didn't have the time to sit around and bench-race too much.

Eddie Van Halen once said that he didn't laugh at Spinal Tap, because he'd lived every bit of that movie in real life. Do you feel the same way about Talladega Nights?

No, no. [Laughs] I thought it was far from the truth, but extremely funny. Our sport is so corporate-driven, so to see some great spoofs on it was rather fun.

Kevin Harvick recently told us a story about signing a fan's birth certificate. What's the creepiest thing you've ever seen a fan do?

I signed a woman's leg in Michigan one year. When she came back the next year, she'd had it tattooed on.


That one kind of scared me, to be honest.

One of my editors joked that I should conduct the entire interview like I thought you were former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. So, what did you think of Emmitt Smith's performance on Dancing With The Stars?

[Laughs] You know, there's only been one or two episodes of that [mistaken identity.] He's apparently had a few things take place on his side, which I found interesting. Luckily, when he was in his prime as a coach versus when I came on the scene, there wasn't a whole lot of overlap.

Outside of NASCAR, what's your favorite sport?

I really enjoy the football season. Our season's winding down [when football starts], so I'm able to sit on the couch with the clicker and really relax.

Who's your team?

I lived in Wisconsin for a while, so I keep my eyes on the Packers. I grew up in San Diego, so there's the Chargers, but outside of that, I'm really kind of lame because I don't have a specific team I pull for. I've met a lot of athletes along the way, and  I look for my friends on the field to see who's having a good game.

Who are you close with?

Through my Gatorade relationship I know Peyton and Eli [Manning, of course]. I'm so proud of what they've accomplished. I'm a good friend of Jason Sehorn. He's trying to beat into me that I need to be a Giants fan. And out in San Diego, I've met Shawne Merriman a few times along the way.

Around here, we try to give drivers new nicknames. What's the best nickname you've ever had?

I've been very fortunate to dodge a nickname throughout my entire career. I've never had one.

Anybody ever called you Johnny?

No, I've not heard that one.

Okay, we're almost done, so let's talk about why you're in New York.

It's the Moonshot Challenge. Remember those commercials with Tiger on the moon hitting the ball? We're here with the winners from San Diego, Miami, New York, Chicago and Dallas, and we'll see who can hit the ball the farthest. And the greatest part is that $100,000 will be donated to the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Plus, it's a hot day in New York, so hydration is important.

[Note: Gatorade Tiger is now officially our favorite sports drink. Three cheers for Gatorade Tiger!]

Before we go, what's new with your own foundation?

Our focus is really on children. We've done things with the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and other great charities out there. We're focused on areas where my wife and I grew up, and the area where we live in Charlotte. We hope to keep it growing the rest of the year.

Great. Jimmie, I really appreciate your time today.

You got it.

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