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The Inside Line: Sorry, McNabb, but Johnson really is an athlete

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Updated: 11/18/2013 6:14 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb said last Friday on the Fox Sports 1 show "Fox Sports Live" that Jimmie Johnson is not an athlete.

"Do I think he's an athlete? Absolutely not," McNabb said on the program. "He's not an athlete. He sits in a car, and he drives."

Donovan, you're wrong. Johnson is not only an athlete but a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion as well. And he's destined to win several more championships.

Gee, Donovan, how many Super Bowl titles did you claim during your 13-year tenure in the NFL?

Oh, yes, none.

The NASCAR nation took to Twitter and other social media sites after McNabb made his comments. Whether McNabb is a NASCAR fan or not, it's doubtful we'll see him at any races in the near future.

Johnson was appreciative of those who came to his defense.

"I did have some great support over the last couple days, which is awesome, and, yes, I am an athlete, and so is every driver in one of these race cars," Johnson said after Sunday's season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "Even Tony Stewart. He's an athlete."

Johnson is more than just a race car driver. He's also an avid runner. The 38- year-old has competed in numerous half marathons and has hopes of running in the Boston Marathon in the next year or two. Johnson has been with Hendrick Motorsports throughout his whole Sprint Cup career.

"I heard McNabb say (Johnson) wasn't an athlete," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "I'd like to see McNabb come run the Boston Marathon with him. ... Guys like that don't know what they're talking about."

Johnson has now captured a lot of attention in the sports world. ESPN has invited him to guest host "SportsCenter" on Tuesday night. Johnson will become the first athlete -- yes, athlete -- to be a guest host on the program.

"I don't know if SportsCenter knows what they're getting themselves into," Johnson jokingly said. "It's probably a good thing I'm there pretty much all day preparing."

Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan, who is arguably the greatest athlete of all time, had praised Johnson when he won his fifth title but noted he was one short of catching him.

"When you mention Michael's name, he's given me a hard time that I only won five," Johnson said. "I can't wait to send him a text and say, 'Hey, buddy, I've caught up'."

Johnson's sixth championship came in his 12th season in NASCAR's top series. He is only one title away from tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most championships in the sport.

Petty claimed his seventh title in his 19th season, while No. 7 for Earnhardt came in his 16th season.

Since winning his record fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship in 2010, there has been much debate about Johnson being the greatest race car driver of all time. That argument elevated to a new level.

"I have six, and we will see if I get seven," Johnson said. "Time will tell. I think we need to save the argument until I hang up the helmet. Then it's worth the argument. If people want to argue and fight about it right now, then they can. But let's wait until I hang up the helmet before we start thinking about this."

Petty seems to think that Johnson's number of championships won't stop at six.

"Right now, it's seven and seven, then it will be seven, seven, seven, and he's liable to go to eight to 10," Petty said. "The way the situation is now with what they have together and what the competition has together, if it doesn't change, if somebody doesn't get better or worse, it's gonna continue to be the same thing."

Just how dominant has Johnson been compared to the other active Sprint Cup drivers?

His 66 wins in the series since 2002 are 30 more than any other driver in that span.

"Let me tell you something, that dude is pretty amazing. He's pretty spectacular," Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, said.

Perhaps McNabb should have done his homework on Johnson before labeling him as a non-athlete.

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