Johnson has Manning-like motivation in 2012

Being somewhat of a living-in-the-moment type, I tend to shy away from pre-season predictions and other prognostications as a general rule; first of all, because they’re basically meaningless, and second, because I’m usually wrong.

 But since it’s no state secret or even a surprising choice, the biggest story in sports during the week of March 5 reminded me that I haven’t said it openly, so here you go. I believe Jimmie Johnson will win his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in 2012.

I thought about Johnson as I watched former Indianapolis Colts icon Peyton Manning, along with team owner Jim Irsay, announce that one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game was being “released.” We all knew it was coming, and “smart move vs. dumb move” opinions abound, but my first thought was less than analytical; it was “uh-oh. That’s going to be one motivated guy.”

The term “released” always makes me laugh. It conjures up the image of professional sports being like a huge fish pond abounding with bass, trout, catfish and the occasional slimy eel. Teams serve as the anglers who literally do just that, using various types of bait, lures and cagey maneuvers to get their top choices on the hook, where they are then served up on a silver platter for the enjoyment of the fans and the profitability of the franchise.

Until, that is, things start to get a little fishy. A five-time championship dynasty becomes a sixth-place finisher. A Super Bowl winner is sidelined by injury. “We did it” becomes “What could we have done differently?” One franchise player becomes a free agent, while another must graciously applaud as a competitor hoists a trophy that for half a decade has belonged only to him.

Fortunately, champions are defined not by their misfortunes, but by how they respond to them.

Manning has been “released,” AKA fired, back into the pond, whose shores seem to be getting awfully crowded all of a sudden.

At last count, at least six teams were queuing up to talk terms with the future Hall-of-Famer. They see him not as a liability, but as a potential saving grace. After his contentious split with the Green Bay Packers, remember, Brett Favre went on to have the best statistical season of his career, with the Minnesota Vikings.

While we have already established that there is no such thing as a safe prediction, I cannot envision a day when the words “Hendrick Motorsports has released Jimmie Johnson from his contract” will be uttered. But I do know this; while finishing sixth in the year-end driver standings might be the pinnacle of a career for another driver, for Johnson, it represents failure … and motivation.

Tell a guy he’s done and some will believe it, but others will just be inspired to go out and do more. I believe Jimmie Johnson is that kind of guy, and a disappointing early season will simply make him and his team work that much harder. Talent is great, but extreme motivation will almost always beat it, and Johnson has a boatload of both.

I challenge those who believe the old adage that an extremely hot place down South “hath no fury like a woman scorned” to keep your eyes on Manning and, in particular, on Jimmie Johnson in 2012.

That mad woman is about to get a run for her money.

NASCAR notes

2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and Indianapolis native Tony Stewart on Peyton Manning: “I’ve had a chance to interact with Peyton. He’s just a great guy and he’s meant so much to the Indianapolis Colts and the city of Indianapolis, and we’re all sad to see him go … In the big picture it’s probably in the best interests of the franchise but you can’t imagine the Indianapolis Colts without Peyton Manning. He’s been such a great figure, and whatever he does we want him to be happy, and stay healthy, and have fun.” … 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne has announced that he may be forced to drop of NASCAR Nationwide Series contention due to lack of sponsorship on the car. Bayne drives for Roush Fenway Racing. … Defending Southern 500 winner Regan Smith and fellow driver Paul Menard, along with Smith’s wife, Megan, and a family friend, escaped injuries in a Colorado road accident Wednesday. The foursome was on the way to a nearby ski slope when Smith lost control of his Silverado truck after hitting a patch of ice and crashing into a stand of trees near his mountain home in Evergreen, outside of Denver.

NASCAR columnist Cathy Elliott is also the author of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.” Visit her online at www.mybrainonnascar.com.

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