NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson letting more funloving personality show 2009: Jimmie Johnson

NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson letting more funloving personality show

Jimmie Johnson strode through the lobby of the TPC Tampa Bay clubhouse in Lutz, spied the placard bearing the logo of his celebrity golf

tournament and pulled off thick, black sunglasses. He entered the restaurant full of major and more major sports luminaries smearing cream cheese on bagels, worked the room, then escaped to the foyer to find someone who could help him find a driver. Johnson had forgotten his golf clubs. Or maybe they had been pilfered from his luggage, considering the gauze wrapping a wound that required 16 stitches to mend a gash on his left middle finger. His handlers and foundation employees were instantly atwitter. "Jimmie wants to play. No," they whispered and texted to each other. "The doctors didn't clear that." Johnson seems fairly oblivious to the notion that something is beyond his 3 wood if he wants it badly enough. He has won three consecutive Sprint Cup championships to tie Cale Yarborough's record, and no matter what media polls or bored-of-the-story fans think, there's no reason to discount the possibility of a fourth. Johnson, 33, has more victories (40) than any driver since his rookie year in 2002, 17 more than the next-best, teammate Jeff Gordon. His crew chief, Chad Knaus, is considered one of the most innovative in the sport. He's a member of a Hendrick Motorsports team that has won almost a third of the Sprint Cup races since 2006. And Johnson wants that fourth title. So he's not about to wither. Not to the Sprint Cup field. Not to a finger he sliced with a kitchen knife trying to cut a hole in his firesuit during the Rolex 24 sports car race in January. "I've always been accident-prone," he said, smirking. "But I've always said, 'If you're going to be accident-prone, be tough enough to handle it.' " As his win total ballooned and his career began to take on historic importance, Johnson slowly began revealing his inner self, though he says he's unaware of the process because it's not intentional. Perhaps nothing humanized him more than a joyride atop a golf cart in Mike Hampton's charity golf tournament in Lecanto in December, 2006, when Johnson was flung to the ground, breaking a bone in his wrist. Since, he has joked about red eyes and an angry liver when describing his offseason merriment following his titles. "It's kind of a weird situation because I don't feel like I'm making an effort or doing anything different than I normally would," Johnson said. "People maybe are digging deeper and maybe are more aware of how I phrase things or what I say, but I truthfully have not changed a damned thing about myself. I'm just me, man." This Super Bowl weekend golf event in Lutz with friend Nick Lachey is his first trek to a golf course in Florida since that day, and his partners in crime &8212 minus Hampton &8212 are en route. Major-league baseball players Brian and Marcus Giles, childhood friends from El Cajon, Calif., are late, but it is a virtual certainty they will make up for lost time when they arrive. &8226 &8226 &8226

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