Johnson's No. 1 and that's no surprise to Hendrick
By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM
May 12, 2011 11:10 AM, EDT
It should be no shock to most sports fans to learn that, according to a poll commissioned by Forbes
magazine, three NASCAR drivers were among the most influential of
American sports figures -- including two of the top three positions.
While the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season has seen
NASCAR beguiled by shortcomings in live attendance and TV viewership,
its athletes -- compared to many of the current marquee stick-and-ball
players -- are paragons of stability and cleanliness of character and
I've been very fortunate to have guys like Gordon and Jimmie,
who are absolutely no-maintenance -- anything you ask them to do,
they'll do it. And Dale and Mark are the same way. I haven't been asked
to the hauler in a long time.
-- RICK HENDRICK
And while five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has left many NASCAR fans less than enamored with his personality, he earned the top rating of all American athletes in Forbes' poll,
which was released this week and executed by E-Poll Market Research of
Encino, Calif. Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, were third and eighth, respectively, in the rankings.
Johnson rated No. 1 in the poll of 1,000 adults
-- with the proviso that the athlete had to be known to at least 20
percent of the respondents, which according to Forbes eliminated the
highly-influential boxer Manny Pacquiao, "who scores the highest
influence numbers of anyone but who's familiar to only 12 percent of the
Johnson's status in the poll that measured
influence, likeability and awareness levels -- including endorsements
and media exposure -- was no shock to team owner, Rick Hendrick, who ultimately stood up for his entire organization.
"I think people have had to learn to respect him
that maybe didn't like him at first," Hendrick said. "I think he was in
Jeff's [Gordon] shadow a lot early on -- and now when they see him on
HBO or somewhere else on TV, the word gets out. You never hear anybody
say anything bad about Jimmie. You might not like him because he's
beating you, but you never hear anybody say anything bad about him.
"He races you hard, but never dirty. I think the
fans, as they've gotten to know more of him, have learned to respect
him even if they don't necessarily claim him as their favorite driver."
Hendrick's assessment of Johnson, specifically, and his four drivers overall, including the veteran Mark Martin, gives some insight into why NASCAR athletes in general are considered positive role models.
"I think the cool thing about [Johnson] is that
he doesn't ask for publicity," Hendrick said. "He doesn't need to try to
make people think he's the best out there. His deal is that he wants to
just get in the car and be the best. He doesn't want to talk about it;
he just wants to do it. And he puts a lot of effort into that.
"And what's so different about Jimmie is that
he's not always looking to have everything else better, he just wants to
make himself better. And he thinks if he's better, he'll elevate the
rest of it. So he's a pretty phenomenal guy.
"I'm very, very fortunate to have Jimmie
Johnson, I can tell you that. I've been very fortunate to have guys like
Gordon and Jimmie, who are absolutely no-maintenance -- anything you
ask them to do, they'll do it. And Dale and Mark are the same way. I
haven't been asked to the [NASCAR] hauler [to discuss questionable
behavior] in a long time.