Jimmie Johnson, the first driver in NASCAR history to win four consecutive championships, has been named the Associated Press 2009 Male Athlete of the Year. Johnson's 42 votes from AP-member newspapers were easily enough to beat tennis star Roger Federer (30 votes), Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt (29) and golfer Tiger Woods, NBA star Kobe Bryant and major-leaguer Albert Pujols (nine votes each).
Johnson is the first racer to win the AP's honor in its 78-year history.
"We'd been wondering the last few years, 'When is this going to hit?' " Johnson said. "It seems like the answer is now. The wave is finally peaking, and we don't know where it's going to take us. The fourth-straight title takes it out of our sport and makes it a point of discussion--like, 'Wow, a race-car driver won this thing.' "
The 34-year-old Hendrick Motorsports star collected four of his seven race wins this season during the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff in the fall. Two-time champion Tony Stewart dominated the regular season, but Johnson and his No. 48 Chevrolet team turned it up when the stakes were highest.
In addition to his four Chase victories in 10 starts, Johnson finished five other times in the top 10. He took a 108-point lead into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and won the Sprint Cup by 141 points over teammate Mark Martin.