By Jerry Bonkowski
The Sports Xchange
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The last three seasons have been like the movie Groundhog Day for Jimmie Johnson: different year, same end result.
Johnson hasn't earned the nickname "Mr. Vanilla" for nothing, using a methodical, formulaic route to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships.
The key is Johnson didn't change anything. He did the same thing over and over.
And over even more.
Let's face it, his style is so boring that he could become the poster boy to solving insomnia. He rarely speaks out, goes out of his way to talk nice about his fellow competitors, doesn't throw helmets or grabs opponents by the firesuit and is probably as close to an All-American boy that we have in society today.
Johnson doesn't abuse steroids. He doesn't pick up DUIs (okay, so maybe he did fall off a golf cart while trying to surf atop it after a couple of brews two years ago, breaking his left wrist). His name never appears in the scandal sheets – unless he's hanging around with singer Nick Lachey, more famously known for being the former Mr. Jessica Simpson.
Try as they may over the last seven years, reporters have tried everything in their power to bait Johnson and make him speak out of turn.
It never works. He's too savvy – or maybe just too naïve – to let himself be drawn into such a no-win trap.
But now, Johnson has decided to shake things up and step out of his normal persona. In so doing, he's all but guaranteed that he won't four-peat at the end of this season.
No, he doesn't have a new crew chief, isn't divorcing knockout wife Chandra, and hasn't decided to become a convert to Scientology.
Still, Johnson has gone and upset the apple cart.
He's grown a dastardly beard.
First off, Jimmie, you do NOT look good in a beard, no matter what Channie says. You look more like a homeless guy than someone who could step out of the pages of GQ.
Maybe you could get away with a mustache – I mean, look what it did for Dale Earnhardt – but who was the last Sprint Cup champ to sport a full-blown beard?
There's never been one, that's who!
Second, as well as you try to trim it, the Edwardian look just isn't you. Heck, man, you're a surfer dude and former motocross rider from the decidedly blue collar town El Cajon, Calif. – not a hoity-toity Indy-car driver from fancy, schmansy La Jolla just a short burnout away.
Jimmie, for your good and ours, beg Gillette – the razor company, not race team co-owner George (Gillette without an E) – to let you be one of the Young Guns again so you can get all the free razors you need and rid us of that ugly stubble.
But if you decide to keep that fuzz on your face, don't blame me if you fail to win the championship at season's end. Quick, go to a wind tunnel before it's too late and you'll see what I mean – it's just not aerodynamic.
Alas, if you decide you like the look of the new "you," you're all but writing your season ending before we even start the season. How can your crew chief, Chad "Keep everything the same" Knaus, let you get away with it?
I mean, look what the beard has already done to you: maybe the fuzz on your cheeks and chin got in your way, and that's the real reason you wound up cutting yourself during the Rolex 24 a few weeks back while you tried to puncture a small hole in your firesuit to get some oxygen into it.
That bonehead move ranks right up there with the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose slicing himself while trying to peel an apple in bed – proving that smoking isn't the only thing that can hurt you in bed.
Jimmie, need I remind you how once, as a kid, you somehow inexplicably wound up with a bicycle pedal stuck to your head? I still haven't figured out how you pulled off that beauty.
Then, you wrecked in last week's Budweiser Shootout while trying to make a last lap run towards the front, taking out several cars.
Again, blame it on the beard. Maybe the facial hair tickled your nose, and when you went to scratch it, you lost control of the car and suddenly said, "Hello, wall!"
If anything, you may potentially be facing the worst season you've ever had – something you've never had, considering you've never finished lower than fifth in the standings in any one season since you came to the Cup series.
I'm not going to belabor the point, Jimmie. You know how I feel. If you want to be stubborn and bullheaded and keep that hairy monstrosity just to prove a point, don't come crying to me in mid-November when you're not celebrating your fourth consecutive title.
"Yeah, I think it'll be around for a while," Johnson said, still enamored with the hair on his chinney chin chin.
And you wonder why Carl Edwards was the preseason pick by NASCAR media and fans to win the championship? He doesn't have a beard, almost always appearing clean-shaved and freshly scrubbed.
"I just thought, well darn, if you've won three championships in a row, you'd think that you'd be a favorite," Johnson said. "We all have to go to the track and prove it out. So it was more of a funny moment where I'm like, really? What's a guy have to do to be considered the favorite?"
Jeff Gordon doesn't have a beard. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart may have some stubble on race day, but sooner or later they shave it off. I mean, if you want to grow a soul patch like Kyle Busch, have at it.
Just please, get rid of what looks like a dead squirrel on your face – and put the NASCAR world back in balance, please.
Oh yeah, and then you can go out and win that fourth title, just like the first three.