- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson will be on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” magazine that goes on sale Wednesday.

It’s Johnson’s second time on the cover _ he was also featured in 2008 after his third title _ but its only the 10th time Sports Illustrated has featured NASCAR nationally on the front of the magazine.

Johnson said Tuesday he was unaware of the so-called SI cover jinx and doesn’t believe it will factor into whether or not he claims a sixth consecutive title this season.

“There’s nothing to worry about. If I lose the championship it has nothing to do with being on the cover of a magazine,” he said during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “It would mean we didn’t do our jobs, or we had some bad luck and didn’t win a race.

“It’s no concern. I didn’t realize there was a curse. I thought it was being on the cover of a video game, that was the curse. I think it’s just a bunch of people making (stuff) up.”

The curse is an urban legend, but there’s no denying that athletes and teams that have been featured on the cover had bad luck after. Atlanta Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews was widely considered to be the first person affected by the jinx after his 1954 cover in the debut year of SI. He broke his hand after and missed seven games.

More recent examples are Olympic gold medal hopeful Lindsey Vonn injuring her leg the same week she was on the cover in 2010, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler injuring his knee and the Bears losing to Green Bay after Cutler was on the cover before January’s NFC championship game. Last month, the Buffalo Bills were featured regionally for the first time since 2003 and promptly lost to Cincinnati.

But Johnson has always believed he’s in charge of his own fate and isn’t superstitious beyond admittedly fixating on his car No. 48 when setting alarms.

I was (superstitious) early in my career and over time nothing ever, ever really made a difference and I quickly aborted,” he said. “I just don’t think it changes the setup of the car or makes anything work any better, you know?”

Johnson won Sunday at Kansas to move to third in the standings. He trails leader Carl Edwards by four points with six races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

The first NASCAR specific SI cover was Bill Elliott in Sept. 1985.