Johnson just latest object of fan ire

"They don't look at him as an individual, like you get to know somebody," Helton said. "They look at him as an athlete that's beating people they traditionally pulled for. He's the next in the cycle, so to speak. And in some cases, if he beats their guy, then fans of everybody else automatically aren't on his side.

"Jimmie is almost single-handedly against the entire rest of the industry."

Despite their differences, Myers sees some Earnhardt in Johnson as a driver.

"I'm a Jimmie Johnson fan, and I'm a Jimmie Johnson fan because of what I see that guy do by himself," Myers said. "Ten years ago, whenever he started, he was the best at recovery I've ever seen -- having a problem, two laps down, written off. No! He doesn't get enough credit for what he does in that seat.

"Dale Earnhardt was the same way. We're in a deal where anybody here on a perfect day, with a perfect car, can win that race. There's few people that, on that same day, with a 10th-place car, can win that race. Dale Earnhardt could do it. Jimmie Johnson can make that happen."

The No. 48 team pays little mind to negative fan response, an approach that stems from the top, crew chief Chad Knaus. Knaus, a former crewmember for Jeff Gordon's No. 24 team, has lived it before.

"It actually sounds like it's following me," he laughed. "I guess I am a little immune to it. It's very similar to what we did with [Gordon's] car back in the day. You just learn to block it."

Knaus noted one major key in the Team 48 dynasty: the willingness to re-create itself in the quest to stay self-motivated. Difficult personnel decisions are made almost annually. Be the very best or be replaced. That, too, comes from Knaus. Fueling the hate with more trophies is somewhat of a badge of honor for the team.

"Whatever the fans think of you, you can't run from it," Waltrip said. "You have to figure out how to embrace it. I had no problem laughing at myself or making fun of myself. I used people not liking me as motivation. It made me want to be better. I think Jimmie may be in that same boat. Internally, he's probably using that as self-motivation.

"We're all driven for something -- fame or fortune or success. But sometimes you need that motivator. I always think about what Kyle Busch told me -- haters are motivators. And in a subtle way -- because Jimmie is just that way -- I bet he uses how people feel about him as self-motivation."

Johnson's self-motivation cannot be questioned. His training regimen is well documented. He turned himself into a marathoner and triathlete to find an edge, as mental as it is physical -- this after he had already won five Cup championships.

"He ran a half marathon, 1:28? I mean, that's pretty impressive, what an athlete," Petree said. "This just tells me what kind of commitment he has to excellence, and I think a lot of the other drivers look at him as an example of what it takes to try to beat him. He's really something."

It's just another reason to hate the guy.

"I give that guy a lot of respect because he's able to reach down there and get a handful of something and get the job done," Myers said. "He deserves more respect than he gets. The people inside this business, they either respect him or fear him. He's that good."

So is his dominance bad for NASCAR?

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