Jimmie Johnson rubbishes “athlete” dig in style

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Jimmie Johnson finally took time Sunday night at Homestead to dismiss what was a fairly outrageous, out-of-line claim by ex-Philadelphia Eagles NFL QB Donovan McNabb that Johnson wasn’t an athlete.

“Yes, I am an athlete, and so is every driver in one of these racecars.  Even Tony Stewart,” he deadpanned after winning his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

McNabb made the claim on a FOX studio show prior to the weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale and immediately heard from the NASCAR nation on Twitter.

And Sunday night in Homestead provided a perfect response from Johnson and the two closest people around him in his NASCAR career, team boss Rick Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus.

Said Hendrick, “I heard McNabb say he wasn’t an athlete.  I’d like to see McNabb come run the Boston Marathon with him or swim the lake out here.  Guys like that don’t know what they’re talking about.  He wouldn’t have been Athlete of the Year if people didn’t know what kind of unbelievable athlete he is.”

Added Knaus, “I owe a lot of my change in attitude to Jimmie because he’s opened my eyes. You have to realize, I’ve lived my whole life in these damn circles.  Middle of the racetrack, that’s where I live. You see the circle, put me in the middle of it, that’s where I’ve been for 30 years of my life.  Jimmie has made me realize there’s more to it than just that. He’s opened my eyes to a lot of things.  I love him like a brother.  He’s pretty special to me.  He’s a cool dude.”

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two Ligier JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and British youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”