Dropping the Hammer with Jimmie Johnson

For the most part, Jimmie Johnson is driven towards achieving excellence with the No. 48 team. (Photo Credit: Michael Guariglia/TPF)

For the most part, Jimmie Johnson is driven towards achieving excellence with the No. 48 team. (Photo Credit: Michael Guariglia/TPF)

Generally speaking, Jimmie Johnson is NASCAR’s version of Tom Brady.  By all means, the 44-year-old from El Cajon, Calif. has amassed such incredible statistics, such as 83 Cup wins and seven championships.

However, like Brady of the New England Patriots, Johnson and his No. 48 Ally Financial Chevrolet team have tremendous expectations placed upon them each year.  Naturally, when champions endure some struggles on their playing field, some questions creep up about competitiveness and desire.

Given these points, Johnson remains as committed and driven for long-term success with his Hendrick Motorsports comrade.  In fact, with the ebbs and flows of the past few years, that competitive fire flourished more so with Johnson.

Certainly, most would surrender to the seemingly overwhelming odds that Johnson endured since his most recent title in 2016.  Then again, most athletes and racers aren’t those with the pedigree and determination of this future NASCAR Hall of Fame racer.

Ultimately, Johnson knows what he and his new crew chief Cliff Daniels are capable of doing with their team.  With that in mind, I caught up with Johnson at Texas Motor Speedway regarding the changes to his No. 48 team, the future of NASCAR, the necessity to evolve, and of course, a recent visual change!

Rob Tiongson :  As the year closes out, you’ve been building chemistry and rapport with Cliff Daniels.  While it’s been a tough year, how encouraged are you with the progress and direction with your 48 team since Cliff’s return in the summer?

Conversely, Johnson embraced the return of Cliff Daniels as his new crew chief. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Conversely, Johnson embraced the return of Cliff Daniels as his new crew chief. (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Jimmie Johnson :  I’m definitely encouraged.  The confidence that he has brought to myself and the team, the leadership skills that he has, the expectations that he is, how organized he is – it’s more than just one thing.  But there’s a dynamic that’s existing inside that 48 truck that needs to be there and the expectations are high but we have a system and a plan on how we’re going to get there.  So, I feel like we’re going in the right direction.

Rob Tiongson :  Through the years, it’s almost like you and your team are like the New England Patriots of NASCAR.  Like them, changes take place to reinvigorate their team but the constant remains with the “iconic leader” with Tom Brady.  In some ways, how have you, as the catalyst of the 48 team, how have you taken charge to get things back in the right directions?

Markedly, Johnson recognizes the need to embrace NASCAR's recent changes. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Markedly, Johnson recognizes the need to embrace NASCAR’s recent changes. (Photo Credit: Sean Folsom/TPF)

Jimmie Johnson :  Change isn’t easy.  It’s something I’ve had to learn to deal with.  I’m more of a pleaser and really get to know people on a personal level.  So, anytime you make change, it’s just really hard for me.  But, I’ve learned how to be better at it and how to approach and handle those situations.

Ultimately, we’re in a performance driven sport. And I need to follow my heart and so does the leader of our team to have the right personnel in place and make sure it’s more than just smart people – that the chemistry is really right.  And I think that’s something that gets overlooked quite a bit.

The chemistry inside of a team – this is a people business.  I know it looks like a racecar business, but this is really about people, and having that chemistry (being) right is everything.

Rob Tiongson :  The Gen-6 car as we know it has one more year before some major changes for 2021 and ’22.  Along with that, we’ve seen changes to the race and Playoff formats.  How does you and your team adapt to these radical changes, especially with a new Camaro model that’s at least around for next season?

Jimmie Johnson :  Yea, it’s the early days on the next generation car, so they’re still trying to figure that out but we all are aware that it’s going to be a massive change.  And within any change, there’s an opportunity for somebody to figure it out.  So, now that we know that it is happening, there’s no need to question it or have an opinion.

It’s just time to figure it out.  And it’s time to get to work and try to build the best product (that) we can.  So, I think I’ve seen that shift inside of Hendrick Motorsports.  We know that it’s coming – let’s pull our resources, let’s figure it out, let’s be the best that we can be.

Rob Tiongson :  Along the same lines, it’s safe to say that the lower horsepower, high downforce package has changed the name of the game for a lot of the tracks on the schedule.  What are some of your likes and dislikes with it, and what changes would you propose to improve upon the on-track product for next season?

Truly, Johnson's desire for wins and championships remains vibrant as his paint scheme. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

Truly, Johnson’s desire for wins and championships remains vibrant as his paint scheme. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

Jimmie Johnson :  I think that we’ve put on a good show.  I really do.  My success in the low horsepower car hasn’t been very good.  My success in stage racing hasn’t been very good.  It’s tough for me to look at it because I would love for things to go back the way it was with high horsepower and no stage racing.  But ultimately, it’s about the viewing audience and what they’re into and the world is changing.

I’ve seen enough to know that the sport’s headed in the right way.  It’s compelling racing.  My friends really enjoy the racing.  I think the 550 package has put on some really good racing and exciting shows.  So, I just need to figure it out.  I need to figure out low horsepower and figure out stage racing so I look forward to the challenge.

Rob Tiongson :  We talked about this a bit last year, but you’ve really taken to social media over the years.  You’ve reached out to fans on various platforms.  Safe to say, did you ever imagine having the means to immediately interact with fans during your first years in NASCAR?

Jimmie Johnson :  No, it’s a different world.  It’s crazy how much it’s evolved.  I’ve had my own journey and fears in the whole digital/social world.  And then, as a father with two kids growing up with this, I don’t even know what the world is going to look like when they’re old enough to own a phone and navigate the rough seas of life.

Rob Tiongson :  Let’s get a bit off track here for a moment and approach a subject from last year.  As a huge music fan, what song has perhaps been the biggest ear worm for you in recent years that you might accidentally find yourself hearing or humming during the day?

Indeed, Johnson's music taste may surprise longtime race fans! (Photo Credit: Daniel Overbey/TPF)

Indeed, Johnson’s music taste may surprise longtime race fans! (Photo Credit: Daniel Overbey/TPF)

Jimmie Johnson :  For me, I would say that there’s two songs that have been with me for a long long time that are just like anthems for me.  One is “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica.  And the other is “Gone” by Jack Johnson.

They’re both in its own (way) of telling people to piss off…(laughs)…you know, as you’re dealing with the pressures of life and of competition and profession in all of that.  There’s just that kind of anthem within that, though, that just hits something.  When I hear those songs, I crank ‘em up or I go look for ‘em and turn ‘em on and crank ‘em up when I need that.

Rob Tiongson :  This next question comes from our Associate Editor Ashley Hobbs.  Which drivers from your career would you hire to your team, recruit to your team before they retire, and bring aboard to your team to conspire or do some pranks?

Jimmie Johnson :  Gosh…I mean, I’d bring Gordon back. Me, Gordon, and….that’s a big question.  I’d go so many directions with it.  How many cars do I have on the team?  Two more to go…oh, I’m sorry, I misunderstood the question.  One to bring back – I’ll take that (with Gordon).  Retire with?

Rob Tiongson :  And not you, cause well…(laughs)

Jimmie Johnson :  Yea, I’ve not even thought about that with the retirement thing kicking my head.  I don’t know if it matters.  I mean, everybody has their own journey.  So, I guess maybe somebody that’s in a good head space that’s ready to retire and not being forced out where you can enjoy that moment together.  But I don’t know who I would want to go out with.

Rob Tiongson :  But Jeff Gordon, definitely for sure?

Jimmie Johnson :  To bring back? Yea.

Rob Tiongson :  To end things on a light note, you shaved your beard off for Darlington although I see some resemblance of a beard right now.  Have you had some people stop and think they’ve found themselves back in the early 2000’s?

As shown above, Johnson embraces his youthful look. (Photo Credit: Michael Guariglia/TPF)

As shown above, Johnson embraces his youthful look. (Photo Credit: Michael Guariglia/TPF)

Jimmie Johnson :  Yea, it’s amazing how young it makes me look.  I’ve just been lazy today and I haven’t shaved today. (chuckles) So, I’ve heard that I look 15 years younger enough to where I’m going to keep it off for a while. (laughs) When friends and family are brutally honest with you with how much younger you look, you’ve got to listen.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Jimmie as well as Amy and Nealie of Hendrick Motorsports for their kindness and time with this feature!  In addition to TPF, keep up-to-date with Jimmie Johnson’s racing efforts via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and his official website!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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