HOMESTEAD, Fla. - He's the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, hailed by many as one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- stock-car driver of all time, but let's get to the heart of the matter:
Is Jimmie Johnson an athlete?
"Yes, I am an athlete, and so is every other driver in one of these race cars," Johnson said, pausing to set up his punchline. "Even Tony Stewart."
The question was raised Friday night by former NFL quarterback and Fox Sports Live analyst Donovan McNabb, who said, "Do I think he's an athlete? Absolutely not."
The comments angered fans and pundits, who took to Twitter in Johnson's defense, but, while McNabb fanned the flame, Johnson had kept mostly quiet about it.
"I did have some great support over the last couple of days, which is awesome," said Johnson, who said six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan had been teasing him about only having five Cup championships.
"I can't wait to send him a text and say, 'Hey, buddy, I've caught up,'" Johnson said.
Never one to compare himself to other professional athletes, Johnson said he might have to reconsider after the sixth championship, but then quickly changed his mind.
"It's not like me to think in that light," Johnson said. "I guess I need to open my mind to it, because the numbers speak for themselves. I find myself in a touchy situation sometimes in that my quiet approach can be looked at as arrogant or cocky, and that's the furthest thing from the truth in what I'm trying to portray.
"I'm just trying to say the right things and keep my mind in the right space. I haven't let a lot in, and it's led to more success, and it's kept my work ethic intact and it's kept me honest and humble. I like that about myself. I don't know if I want to open my mind up and let it in (and consider) where I might stand in the sports world. It's not time for that, in my eyes."
(Copyright 2013 by USA Today. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )