Johnson will flip the switch again

Published 7:34 pm Saturday, January 31, 2009

Jimmie Johnson had been asked yet again to talk about his public image — about being polished, professional, bland.

Impressions that, while accurate, don’t paint the full portrait.

And this came out:

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“This winter has been pretty hard on me,” he said at Daytona. “My liver is not proud of me right now. It’s kind of hating me, to be honest with you. But it’s what you’ve got to do when you win three in a row.”

The three-time defending Sprint Cup champion was making the point that away from his job, he can take unnecessary risks, celebrate too hard, act a little stupid. Just like anybody else.

“Off the track, I’m usually leading the charge to something that could lead to trouble — in a good way,” he said. “I love to have fun … as long as you don’t hurt yourself, you’re fine.”

Evidence? Well, there was the “golf cart surfing” stunt in Florida a couple of winters ago that sent him into preseason testing with a wrist injury. He won’t pull that one at the Super Bowl celebrity tournament he’s hosting next Saturday in Tampa with pop singer Nick Lachey.

And he wears a full beard — albeit, nicely groomed — during the offseason. He even kept it this year.

“I taped a commercial with it [recently], so I might stick around with it a little longer,” he said.

At the track, Johnson is serious, focused, uncontroversial. If there were 42 other drivers like him, no one would watch. Then again, there aren’t.

But Johnson also is very good. At 33, with 40 career Cup victories, he can already be counted among the all-time greats. And there’s little to suggest he can’t become the first driver to win four consecutive titles this season.

At the track, he’ll flip the switch and be the Jimmie Johnson everyone knows. Polite, composed, professional.

“I have no plans to change who I am or what I’m doing,” he said.