Jimmie Johnson Makes History With 5th Title

At the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson won his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. For more on Johnson, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks to Lee Spencer, senior NASCAR writer for FoxSports.com.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Down at the Homestead Miami Speedway yesterday, Jimmie Johnson started the day looking - well, human. Johnson had already won a record four-straight NASCAR championships. But heading into the season's final race, he was 15 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. Hamlin did lead Johnson at points during the race, but he couldnt hold on. And in the end, the day belonged to Jimmie Johnson.

Unidentified Man #1: The championship is going to go to Jimmie Johnson. And if you dont think he's going to be one of the greatest, think again.

(Soundbite of speeding cars)

Unidentified Man #2: You are looking at the five-time champion.

Unidentified Man #1: You're looking at him.

Mr. JIMMIE JOHNSON (NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion): You're kidding me? Yeah!

(Soundbite of hollering)

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Thats a very excited Jimmie Johnson, winning his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

Well, on the line now is Lee Spencer. She's senior NASCAR writer for FoxSports.com. And Lee Spencer, five straight championships. No driver in NASCAR history has done that. How good was he?

Ms. LEE SPENCER (Senior NASCAR Writer, FoxSports.com): Oh my, he was just he was absolutely amazing. He could find a line, make the most of it, get around the racetrack, make it seem absolutely effortless. And that's just part of what makes Jimmie Johnson so good.

I asked him yesterday: How much does experience mean to you, having the experience to win championship after championship after championship? And he said: Experience is everything. And boy, they proved it again on Sunday.

KELLY: Well, now, give us a little bit of perspective here - for people who don't follow NASCAR closely. How would this translate if you were trying to talk about another sport? Is this the equivalent of winning five straight Grand Slams in tennis? Or what would be the comparison?

Ms. SPENCER: Well, when you look at dynasties in sports, certainly you have the Celtics - they won 11 championships in 13 years; the Steelers back in '70s, four Super Bowls in six years; the Yankees, six titles in eight years. And to put it together now, when the sport is as tough as it's ever been, when competition is as tough as it's ever been, what he's been able to accomplish is just miraculous.

KELLY: Well, how does he do it? What is it about Jimmie Johnson that makes him better than the other drivers out there?

Ms. SPENCER: I think he is just so relaxed in his own skin. He told us a story yesterday about getting up for the driver introductions, and his competition, Denny Hamlin, starting to say, boy, I'm starting to feel the butterflies. That never hit Jimmie Johnson because he had been there before. He knew what it would take to capitalize, to take adversity, turn it around and make it his own.

Just time and again, every time something happens to that team, they come back, and its just amazing. In nine years, he has 53 wins and 327 starts, and they just keep producing success over and over again.

KELLY: Let me ask you - one hates to look for a dark lining in all of this. But I wonder, is it perhaps bad for the sport to have one driver be so dominant? Does it get a little boring?

Ms. SPENCER: Well, I think, you know, in some perspectives, it does because there's 43 drivers every week - which means there are, you know, 43 different groups of fans. Obviously, some are bigger than others. And you know, there might be people that get tired of seeing that.

But you know, I can't remember, back in the Michael Jordan days, that people got tired of watching, you know, Michael play. To be around a guy like Jimmie Johnson, who's just, you know, an awesome guy - he had his first child this year; he's married to a former model; I mean, he really does have the perfect life and...

KELLY: He's living the life.

Ms. SPENCER: He really is and, you know, I couldn't be happier for him.

KELLY: Well, thanks very much, Lee Spencer.

Ms. SPENCER: We really appreciate your time.

KELLY: That's Lee Spencer. She's senior NASCAR writer for FoxSports.com, and she's been talking about Jimmie Johnson, who just won a record fifth straight NASCAR championship.

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