When Jimmie Johnson failed to win his sixth consecutive NASCAR championship last year, some fans assumed it was the end of an era.
They hailed the arrival of a new champion, started feeling good about NASCAR again and even let themselves think Johnson wasn't such a bad guy now that he was just another driver.
But those fans prematurely celebrated Johnson's demise. Johnson wasn't done winning races and he's apparently not done winning championships, either. With two races to go this season, it feels exactly like the five years prior to 2011.
It seems inevitable Johnson will become champion again. There's just one problem: NASCAR fans can't stand the thought.
Many fans are disgusted by the prospect of another Johnson championship, and they feel sickened by the repeated sight of the No. 48 team in Victory Lane. It's nothing against Johnson personally, but any driver who wins so much – with the likely exception of Dale Earnhardt Jr. – would draw the same reaction.
The only people who want to see Johnson win this year, though, are Johnson fans.
Twenty years from now, when Johnson is retired and returns to the track in an ambassador role – you know, grand marshal and that sort of thing – he'll be mobbed like Petty. He'll be loudly cheered and his legacy will be fitting of NASCAR's best racer ever.
But now? No one except someone wearing No. 48 gear wants to sit there and watch the process take place. There's an air of resignation about Johnson's championship runs which deflate the NASCAR fan base and make it seem as if he's beating everyone into submission – competitors and fans alike.
It doesn't matter how exciting the Chase is, because if Johnson wins it, many fans will believe it's all for naught. It's like watching the New England Patriots almost lose the Super Bowl but pull out a victory in the end – then all that matters is the bad guys won, and the excitement factor is irrelevant for most fans.
In NASCAR, the Patriots analogy is appropriate because Johnson is Tom Brady and Chad Knaus is Bill Belichick. Brady is a clean-cut, all-American guy who is simply a winner – and people can't stand him for it. He's never done anything to offend the masses except to be great at what he does. And Belichick is the evil mastermind who makes it all happen – sometimes in shady ways – and has his own group of haters.
Together, no football fan outside of New England can stand them. Sound familiar?
The Johnson supporters often counter by questioning why fans can't appreciate watching greatness. Well, because it's irritating. Did people enjoy seeing the Dallas Cowboys win Super Bowls in the '90s? Did people enjoy watching the New York Yankees win all those World Series?
No way. Those were incredible teams and dynasties, but they were hated by the masses.
Industry types in the NASCAR garage may not understand this, but there are actually fans out there who would rather not watch the final two races than subject themselves to seeing Johnson win again. They dislike the thought so much that they'll just go do something else.
For those people, Johnson's cold-blooded march toward another championship takes all the fun out of watching NASCAR. The disease is known as Jimmie Fatigue, and the only cure is for someone else to win.
NASCAR fans have not only seen this movie before, but it's a movie they didn't like the first time. On the sixth viewing, it's even worse.
So while Johnson and his fans prepare for yet another championship celebration this season, the rest of NASCAR Nation is readying to throw itself one big pity party.