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GUESS WHO’S THE MOST POPULAR ATHLETE IN AMERICA…
Tue, 10 May 2011 05:06 PM EDT

Who would’ve thought? If football is the most popular sport in America, then by default, you would think perhaps Tom Brady should be the most influential athlete nationwide. Or perhaps it could’ve been Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, due to their star power, or even perennial Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter… but no. Odds.

It is Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series champion every year since 2006, who is rated as America’s most influential athlete this year. The guy isn’t particularly charismatic. But he’s great at what he does. He’s also appealing to many fans because he seems to be just like them – the guy next door.

Combined with the departure of Lance Armstrong, the shrunken reputation of Tiger Woods, and the fading of interest in 2010 winter Olympians like Shaun White, the ranking has launched three NASCAR drivers into the most influential athletes list. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who certainly is charismatic, and Jeff Gordon, a solid and likeable dude, join Johnson in the top 10 in third and eighth place, respectively.

Talent is just part of what makes an athlete “influential” to the public. Endorsements and media attention, along with off-the-field image all factor in. Scores.

Still on the ranking but falling from last year are LeBron (No. 2 to No. 9), whose unpopular 2010 “Decision” didn’t delight many fans, and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (No. 3 to No. 10), who went from college star and first round NFL draft pick to benchwarmer as a rookie. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, ranks second after capturing the NFL MVP Award.

Joining them we have NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, whose star has been increasingly rising in latest years; despite his age, Shaquille O’Neal also managed to crack the list as well as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who has silently put that 2009 cannabis photo flap to rest while benefiting from the spotlight of the upcoming 2012 Olympics. Las Vegas odds.

We would’ve imagine… now the NASCAR drivers are the popular guys in town!

The top five:

1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Tom Brady
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
5. Michael Phelps

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