If the first auto race began the moment the second car was built, then the argument about who’s an athlete must have popped up when the second sport was contested.
At least as it relates to racing, it certainly feels as though the squabble has gone on that long.
So quarterback-turned-commentator Donovan McNabb fired up the NASCAR community at the start of championship weekend by saying on “Fox Sports Live” that soon-to-be six-time title-holder Jimmie Johnson absolutely wasn’t an athlete. (His words smolder still, nearly a week later. With the off-season in full swing and the next test more than two weeks away, the list of conversation starters is short.)
McNabb’s assertion and the reaction brought three thoughts to mind.
The topic ranks alongside politics or religion when it comes to futile arguments. True believers aren’t likely to be swayed, especially if they’re ignorant and uncultured, as the partisans on the other side always are.
Whatever anyone thinks of racers in general, basic knowledge of Johnson — a triathlete in his spare time — ought to clear up any doubt about him specifically.
It seems silly to have been discussing McNabb at a time when the championships were being decided. On the other hand, if the conversation raised awareness, then there were far worse things that could have happened to NASCAR and Johnson.
“Yes, I am an athlete, and so is every driver in one of these race cars,” said Johnson, who for the most part took the high road.
“Even Tony Stewart, even though he’s carrying a little, he’s an athlete. That’s just fuel for his engine.”
NASCAR championship Sunday unleashes an avalanche of information far beyond what can be shared in one day’s stories.
Here are three bites of leftovers regarding Johnson and his team.
Johnson lost the last of his grandparents recently, the 92-year-old grandmother, his mother’s mother, who loved everything about him but his beard.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the funeral either, which stings a little bit,” Johnson said. “We were (at Homestead-Miami Speedway) testing. I knew she would want me to work on my car and make sure I got to victory lane.”
Johnson’s team underwent a significant overhaul from the end of 2012 with mostly new mechanics, engineers and over-the-wall crewmen.
“I don’t think we’re even close to the potential of the team yet,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “That’s exciting for me.”
With six championships, Johnson is third on the all-time list behind Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, and with 66 victories he is in sight of third, the spot occupied by teammate Jeff Gordon, who has 88. It was suggested that he could even catch second-place David Pearson, who has 105 to Petty’s 200.
“The number is way too big,” Johnson said. “Triple digits is insane to think of.”
But not unthinkable.
Johnson needs 40 victories to top Pearson. Averaging nearly 5.5 victories a year as he has through his career, he would hit 106 in 2020, when he’d be 45.
More tales from TV land
NBC coverage Sunday of the Formula One United States Grand Prix attracted more than a million viewers, an increase of 47 percent to the 2012 audience on Fox’s niche cable outlet Speed.
With Johnson guest co-hosting, ESPN attracted an audience 22 percent larger for its 5 p.m. Tuesday “SportsCenter” than the program averages for that slot.
Juan Pablo Montoya’s first IndyCar test with Penske Racing is scheduled for Monday in Sebring, Fla. . . .
Andretti Autosport promoted Indy Lights driver Carlos Munoz as its fourth full-time driver in the IndyCar Series in 2014. In his first ride in the series this past season, the 21-year-old Colombian nearly won the Indianapolis 500. . . .
United SportsCar Championship testing at Daytona was suspended for Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes this week after two cars flipped. . . ..
In the strange step in the succession of crew chiefs for Stewart, Steve Addington — whose hiring led to the dismissal of Darian Grubb at the end of Stewart’s 2011 championship season — was let go this week. He landed at Phoenix Racing. Stewart will work with Chad Johnston.