TROPHY CLUB -- Jimmie Johnson is NASCAR's unflappable racer.
You can't get to him.
Until you ask him to be your homecoming date.
Which is what Trophy Club Nelson senior Sarah Rusinko did Wednesday at school.
"Will you go to homecoming with me?" she asked him in the middle of a pep rally the school put on for the reigning NASCAR champion, who visited as part of a stop in Texas to talk about his defense of the title.
Johnson, a cool customer on the track, could only smile broadly in the middle of the gym as cheers rained down for the question.
Finally, he could get it out: "I hope my schedule's free. I'd love to go."
Which only brought more cheers.
The Nelson homecoming is in two weekends, so Johnson's schedule won't exactly be free -- he'll be practicing or qualifying for the third event in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But he came ready with a backup plan.
He promised the students all a free ticket to the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 6 at Texas Motor Speedway. That's the eighth race in the Chase, and maybe by then, he'll be close to winning a sixth straight championship.
Which would be fine with his prospective date.
"He and Jeff Gordon are my favorite race car drivers out there," Rusinko said. "He wins. He's fast. I like his team."
Truth be told, Johnson likes his team, too. He thinks he's got a great chance for another championship if he drives up to his capabilities and his team performs behind him. Last year, he had to change pit crews in mid-race at Texas Motor Speedway, and this year, he has only one victory. Plus, his laps-led total is his lowest since the first year of his championship run.
But he's been so consistent, he's in the top half of the seedings for the Chase.
"What takes place in the final 10 races really wins the championship," he told reporters before the pep rally. "I hate that we missed some opportunities to capitalize during the regular season, but it's in the past now, and we've just got to buckle down and get 10 good ones."
Johnson will have to figure out a way to finish ahead of Sprint Cup's three hottest drivers -- Kyle Busch, the year's winningest driver; Gordon, the highest-scoring driver over the previous 10 races, and Brad Keselowski, who's posted top-10s in six of the seven previous races.
And then there's Kurt Busch, who keeps tangling with Johnson and trying to find a way under the cool skin of the No. 48's driver.
"After we had our incidents at Richmond, we got together and spoke our minds," Johnson said. "At the end of it, he put his hand out, shook my hand and said it was behind us. I want to take him at his word. I don't see why he would want to shake hands and say it's behind us and not mean it."
Johnson believes he knows how to handle challenges from other drivers, on or off the track. With the hot-blooded Kurt Busch, it can be tricky, but Johnson knows how to do it.
"It's kind of been a little wild and fun at times going through all this stuff," Johnson said. "I feel like it is behind us now. If it isn't, and it does come around, I guess it can affect my championship battle. No doubt."
But Johnson left Nelson High School with some advice on how to deal with Kurt Busch and his No. 22 car.
Said football coach Bryan Polk at the pep rally: "We hope you have a chance to spin out the 22 at some point!"
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407