LONDON -- During the stop-and-go, 10-mile trek from his hotel to Wembley Stadium on Sunday morning, Jimmie Johnson voiced concern that he wasn't acclimated to the four-wheel drive rally car he would pilot later that day in a highly anticipated duel with seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher.
Those reservations would prove warranted, as Schumacher single-handedly eliminated Team USA from the Race of Champions Nations Cup, then joined teammate Sebastian Vettel in defeating England then Finland to win the overall team Nations Cup championship. It is Germany's first such victory.
Schumacher opened the competition by outrunning Johnson to win by a landslide.
Afterward, Johnson was visibly steamed.
"Hell yeah I'm [upset] -- I want to win," said Johnson, the two-time defending NASCAR Nextel Cup champion. "I went out and did all that I could. I just do not understand the four-wheel drive, hand brake, rally car driving.
"I don't have a lot of experience at it, and to show the level that he showed in the car, I think he's had some days in it. He certainly navigated."
Other than ROC, Johnson has never driven a four-wheel drive car in competition. Then again, the same goes for Schumacher, who would later stall the same car -- the Fiat Abarth rally car -- in which he beat Johnson at the starting line in a loss to Finnish F1 star Heikki Kovalainen.
"Even guys in the drivers' room were like, 'That's pretty good for an asphalt guy driving like a Pro Rally guy,'" Johnson said. "But he did an awesome job. I wasn't even close."
Mistakes cost Johnson dearly. More than once, he mistakenly grabbed the hand brake rather than the gear shift. Again, that goes back to lack of experience in these types of cars.
After the race, Schumacher insisted he'd never run the cars before this week, nor before his last previous ROC appearance, in 2004. In fact, in racing Johnson, Schumacher felt he had some trouble with the Fiat.
"I didn't get so well along with the rally car," Schumacher said. "I need some open wheels. They spin more easily for me."
Asked about the outcome, Schumacher was matter of fact.
"I won it, so it was straightforward," he said.
Despite Johnson's loss, it wasn't over for Team USA just yet. Johnson's teammate, Travis Pastrana, kept the U.S. team alive by beating Vettel in a race of Aston Martins. That set up a Schumacher/Pastrana matchup in rear-wheel drive buggies to decide which team advanced to the quarterfinals of the team competition.
Different cars. Same outcome.
"I drove too fast for my abilities, started hitting walls and then started going very slow," said Pastrana, who paid homage to Schumacher's prowess at the starting line with a prayer pose and a peer toward the sky. "After the first wall, I just kind of kept hitting them.
"I was really hoping Jimmie was going to beat that there Michael Schumacher. I was happy, though. I just drove too hard. I think he would have won anyway, but I really wanted to put in a good drive and I kept overshooting the corners and overshooting my braking marks."
Schumacher, widely considered the greatest race driver in the world, didn't disappoint.
"He's definitely not overrated," Pastrana said. "The more pressure, the better I usually do. But I definitely overdrove the car. If it was someone I thought I could definitely beat by just driving consistently, I would have had a much better run.
"But honestly, I didn't think my driving consistently would have won that match, so I had to try to drive a little harder. He might get a lot of byes by people trying to overdrive the car. He's earned that reputation. He definitely lives up to the hype."
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.