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The Performance Life

Jimmie Johnson’s Keys to Success

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Jimmie Johnson’s fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship is a remarkable accomplishment in an era in which sports dynasties are increasingly rare. Johnson, 35, trails only Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, who each won NASCAR’s premier championship seven times. As part of a Hendrick Motorsports superteam that includes more than 500 employees and teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson has learned a few things about performance, evolving to meet changing conditions, and staying motivated. After coming from behind to win his fifth title on Nov. 21, Johnson and Chad Knaus, the crew chief of Johnson’s No.48 Lowe’s Chevrolet shared a few keys to their success.

1. Embrace Pressure

Johnson has learned not to take things too seriously, even in the heat of a race. “Distractions have been good for me to take my mind off of the obvious,” Johnson says. “Some people need to really focus hard, spend more time in that space trying to be more engaged, involved in what it is. I'm the other way around. Joking around, finding different things to occupy my time during the week or weekend to take my mind off racing has worked great for me. At the end of the day, you can't escape that pressure. When you go to bed at night, your mind starts to slow down; it's inevitable. The thoughts of pressure and championships come to mind. After a while, you kind of get used to those feelings, nerves, all that stuff, try to corral and deal with it to the best of your ability.”

2. Focus on the Team

Any superstar employee benefits from the efforts of a team of people, especially in racing where NASCAR tries to level the playing field with countless rules. “It's the people,” Johnson says. “NASCAR has a very strict rule book. We all have the same equipment. You go through the big teams, the sponsorships are the same, the budgets are the same, we all have the same tools, we all have the same cars. It boils down to the people that are putting the stuff together and how they're working together.”

“We work hard, Knaus says, “making sure we have guys who are kind of self-motivators, guys that when there is a mistake or flaw, they take it upon themselves to try to correct it. When you have guys that basically want to go out there and do the best they can, try to win every single race, motivation just kind of comes and you don't have to try to fish for it or try to instill it in people.

“We work hard to make sure we have the right people on the team. We're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I can promise you, if something goes wrong, something falls short of what their goal is, there's nobody that feels worse than what that individual does. To try to motivate from that point is unnecessary when you’ve got guys like that.”

3. Don't Get Complacent

Late in the 2010 season, Knaus took the unusual step of switching Johnson’s pit crew with that of teammate Jeff Gordon, who shares a Charlotte headquarters with Johnson and even owns a piece of Johnson’s team. Such maneuvers are consistent with Knaus’ approach of starting over each season, not just building upon the previous one.

“Somebody said just a little while ago, ‘Your bucket is almost full.’ As far as I'm concerned we dump it out every week and start over,” Knaus said. “That's the mentality we have. We've got to go to the racetrack every week hungry, focused with the desire to win. We've got expectations that we have to live up to, and if we can do that week in and week out, then we're doing our jobs. “

4. Keep Things Light

Like many athletes, NASCAR drivers can be superstitious. During a five-part HBO Sports reality show on Johnson earlier this year, Knaus mentioned how the team will note the number 48 over the course a day, such as when the clock turns 3:48, 4:48, etc.

“It gets out of hand from time to time,” Knaus says. “We'll be sending a text message and you'll look at it, it's 5:48. It's kind of neat. I think actually in that show it was 5:48 in the morning as we were driving. We got our fifth (championship) for the 48 car. We're hoping the numbers all work in our favor. It's a fun game if nothing else. We don't believe a heck of a lot in luck. But, you know, if it's out there, we'll take it.”

Tags: Pressure, Focus, Goals, Attitude