Reflections of a Bonafide NASCAR Legend, Part 1

Reflections of a Bonafide NASCAR Legend, Part 1

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Jimmie Johnson may be the greatest auto racer of all time — well, at least he stands on the medal podium if there ever was one in NASCAR. Johnson He won seven NASCAR Cup championships from 2006-2016 – five in a row – tying him with the greats Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. He also won the Daytona 500 twice, the Brickyard 400 four times and the Coca-Cola 600 four times. You name it, he pretty much did it. So why did Johnson decide to ditch NASCAR in favor of IndyCar in the mid-’40s? So far, it’s been a rough road in Indy Cars. Johnson Since entering the open-wheel series in 2021, after first withdrawing from the competition entirely, he has finished only twice in the top 10 – this March at the Texas Grand Prix (6th), and in Iowa last month (5th).

We caught up with the loving father of two daughters by phone this week as he prepares for this coming weekend’s IndyCar race in Nashville. What was the transition to IndyCar like? Will Johnson return to NASCAR part-time as rumored? When can he retire for good? The following are excerpts from a long, fascinating speech. This is part 1 of a multi-part series.

Jim Collision: I saw a rumor last week that you might be returning to NASCAR on some schedule.

Jimmy Johnson: These rumors are flying everywhere. [laughs]. I wouldn’t be opposed to say a specific program or a one-off competition if the right opportunity came up. My full-time cup schedules are behind me. I’m sitting here. [in IndyCar] There’s a 21-game schedule, and that sounds like a lot of work.

Conflict: Now at some distance, having won seven NASCAR Cup championships, is it finally down?

Johnson: I couldn’t believe I had won seven when I was facing it on my own. When I got to thinking about it, it seemed even crazier that we were able to pull it off. The sport is very competitive. There are generations of cars that I had to adapt to in order to win championships. Even the way the points were organized, the way the champion was crowned, changed so that I could win in two different formats. I just shake my head, I’m so thankful I experienced that. Also, looking back, I realize how important all people are. Without the team, Mr. Hendrick and his sponsors would not have existed.

Conflict: You are now teammates with Scott Dixon. He’s looking for his seventh national championship, but in IndyCar.

Johnson: Watching Scott and being at Chip Ganassi Racing, I can see his leadership, his talent and the way his team works. I can see a lot of parallels between the world I lived in winning championships and the world I’m in now.

Conflict: When Scott got that pit lane violation in the last Indy 500, basically taking him out of the win after being on the pole and leading several laps, what did you think as his teammate?

Johnson: I was so engrossed in what I was doing, I couldn’t really connect with him until that night. He was definitely disappointed, but in that pit stop at the end of the race, it’s all on the line. You have to hit your marks, but push the limit at the same time. He felt like he was on speed. He was barely judged, and got a violation, a penalty to the drive. He let me know how hard the sport is, how hard it is to be perfect every weekend. [laughs]Not to mention the biggest competition of the year.

Conflict: You were very aggressive the other week on the small Iowa oval. Where did that come from?

Johnson: It really felt like an environment I was used to. The way Indy drove at Iowa reminded me a lot of how the Cup cars drive at Bristol, the attack you need, the line selection, the throttle, the brakes and the steering. It felt very familiar, and it allowed me to trust the car, push it, make aggressive passes.

Conflict: When you’re in an Indy car, do you feel a higher sense of danger than when you’re in a stock car?

Johnson: Before the new aero-screens, I felt Indy cars were more dangerous. But where they are now, I’d put them both in a pretty symmetrical position with a difference in speed in the corners. The Gen-7 stock car you drive today is a stronger vehicle. I see that Kurt Bush will run for a third term [NASCAR] Out of shock, racing returned to Pocono. Now, with an Indy car at 220 mph, and a NASCAR car at 200 mph, I can tell you that the fear and pain levels are pretty much the same. [laughs].

Conflict: 46. ​​Will we see you in a race car when you turn 50?

Johnson: Gosh I hope so. It may not be at IndyCar or NASCAR Cup level, but I have no plans to slow down anytime soon.

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