My kids are home so I gave over the living room television to them for the Colts game while I watched the Martinsville race in the kitchen. Poor Mom just had to bear with me. She's getting to be familiar with the NASCAR tracks and drivers just by osmosis. Over time, I've turned her into a Jimmie Johnson fan although she doesn't feel the same sense or urgency about the races that I do.
Jimmie won in convincing fashion, leading 339 laps. Others passed him or came at him from behind at various times but he fought them all off. This win gives him a 149 point lead over Greg Biffle for the championship, 152 points over Jeff Burton and 198 points over Carl Edwards with everyone else far behind.
Mom asked me, "does that mean he'll win the championship for sure?" "No!", I tell her, "don't say that!" In my own life, I've snatched defeat from the jaws of victory so many times that I never take anything for granted. Jimmie seems to feel the same. In his post-race interviews, he was cautiously optimistic but adamant that his team needs to stay focused and not get cocky. And it's true. Look what has happened to Kyle Busch - eight wins coming into the Chase and nothing but bad luck ever since. Until the math proves that no one can overtake him, I won't tempt fate by declaring it a done deal - and I don't think he will either.
I believe attitude plays a huge part in how people perform but there is a fine line between confidence and being over-confident.
Some drivers, 150 plus points behind, declare with conviction that they still think they'll claim the championship - all they have to do is win the last four races while Jimmie has some seriously bad luck. "You're full of crap," I mutter to them. I understand trying to keep yourself pumped up for the tests ahead but it is also necessary to admit the reality of the obstacles you face.
Other drivers who still have a statistical chance to win, although it would take an almost-miracle, are resigned to their fate. "You've given up and beaten yourself," I mutter to them. Because sometimes full-blown miracles do happen.
And this seems like one of the keys to Jimmie Johnson's success to me. No matter how far ahead, he doesn't assume he's safe. No matter how far behind, he doesn't assume he's done for. He doesn't make pie-in-the-sky promises that he may not be able to keep but he doesn't throw in the towel before the game is over.
It's all a matter of balance.