Since this weekend's race at Homestead is the final round of the Chase, NASCAR's playoff system, and one of the four remaining contenders -- Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch -- will win the 2016 Sprint Cup Championship, I thought it would be fun to ask each driver a simple question:

"What got you here?"

Their answers reveal a simple truth about success -- and the people who achieve success.

If you feel you're on the downside of advantage, it's tempting to rationalize that incredibly successful people were blessed with a certain advantage -- talent, education, connections, etc. -- that you were not.

In rare cases that might be true, but success is only inevitable in hindsight. It's easy to look back on someone else's path to excellence and assume that every decision was smart, every plan was perfect, every step was flawlessly executed... and therefore tremendous success was a foregone conclusion.

But it wasn't.

So forget rationalizing. Who you are is more than enough -- as long as you're willing to work for the success you hope to achieve.

"When you look any successful businessperson or successful athlete, every one of them has work ethic. Work ethic is essential, but for me it was also the power of networking.

"When I was starting out networking was the most powerful tool I had. My parents couldn't afford to take me racing. I had to meet other people, help other people believe in me, talk to people, know people, shake hands...the whole networking process is what got me my chance to drive. Then I had to worry about doing the job.

"I was under the impression that talent would lead to opportunity, but really networking led to opportunity. Networking came first -- then I had to go to show that I could do it.

"I've always told my wife that for the longest time it was who I knew and not what I knew. Once I had my shot I had to know my stuff, but who I knew was what really opened the door to show what I could do.

"But I wasn't 'selling' myself. I wasn't good at selling.

"When I was 19 or 20 I was on a path to get into the IndyCar space and suddenly found out that if I wanted a future in motor sports I needed to move to North Carolina and consider NASCAR. So I bought a plane ticket to Charlotte and lived on someone's couch.

"The first thing I did was buy business cards with my name and "Professional Race Car Driver" at the bottom. (Laughs.) I found out where some of the team guys would eat lunch and I'd show up at 11 and when people came in I would introduce myself, shake their hands, and gave them a business card. I asked if I could come to their shops, look around, learn about cars...it wasn't about selling, it was about learning: I'm a driver and I want to learn.

"I went to every auto show. I went to every sponsor event I could find. I passed out my card, and every business card I received I sent a letter to that person saying how nice it was to meet them, I put them on my fax list... I had this whole system set up to try to keep my name in front of people. And eventually it paid off.

"As time went on people started to say, 'That guy, you won't believe the road he's been down to get here...' All that work helped me then... but it also served me well later."

***

"One word: persistence. Period. That's it. Second to that, in my experience, is education. You have to educate yourself on what exactly it is that's going to get you where you want to go.

"For me, racing was a real adventure. We didn't have the money to go racing, I had some connections that helped me that I'm so grateful for, helped me get introduced to people... but really it was just about me being persistent and making sure people understood exactly what I was willing to do and what I had to offer.

"I know a lot of people that I raced against growing up were definitely more talented than me in a race car, but it's easy to beat the people that aren't willing to keep fighting the battle.

"I see it to this day. We have a farming business. That's an obvious place where the people who are willing to work hardest succeed.

"The more I go to functions and hang out on people's yachts (laughs)... all these people have one thing in common. They're not going to quit."

***

"No matter what you're doing, you have to be successful at everything you do each step along the way. Take racing. When you're a kid racing go-karts you need to win at that before you move on to another level. You may be able to skip one level, but you can't skip levels in succession. When I was a kid I didn't win at one division but I won in everything else past that until I got to ASA cars when I was 18... but then I've won at everything past ASA.

"The goal is to work to be the best at your current level so you can move up. Have a long-range goal, but don't look past where you are today. If you work to be the best at whatever you're doing right now, that will get you ready to move to the next level.

"That means you'll earn going to the next level. You won't have to hope things work out for you. You can make things work out for you."

***

"The simplest answer? Work. I constantly work at my job. Having that determination and the ability to work and have the mindset of "I will not get beaten," whether that's on the racetrack or in a boardroom or anywhere.That attitude outweighs anyone's smarts or intelligence. Attitude is everything.

"I want to want it more than anybody else.

"It all comes back to hard work. If you don't have the mindset you're never going to do the work, and without the work there's no reward.

"And then surround yourself with good people. I try to find people that I see great qualities in. I want to surround myself with the people that have the same attitude as me in their respective industries, because then I can learn from them. When you surround yourself with greatness, whether it's the team around you or just going out to dinner, you're able to learn something at the end of the day.

"You go to sleep thinking, "I'm a better person today than I was yesterday." I like having people around me that make me feel that way.

"Like Roger Penske says, 'Effort equals results.' So to me it's really simple: Do the work. Constantly do more work than everyone around you. That's how you win -- at anything."

Published on: Nov 18, 2016
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