By all means, Jimmie Johnson will go down in motorsports history as one of the greatest NASCAR Cup Series drivers of all-time. Certainly, Johnson, the El Cajon, Calif. native, transcends beyond stock car competition.
In similar fashion to former teammate and mentor Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s success on the track matched his outreach across various walks of life. From a stint as an ESPN SportsCenter host to his appearance in a music video for The Avett Brothers, the 44-year-old future NASCAR Hall of Famer’s stardom remains limitless.
Undoubtedly, Johnson’s final full-time Cup season evokes many emotions for race fans enthusiasts. Given the circumstances impacting the country and world with the COVID-19 pandemic, most are witnessing Johnson’s last season, for the moment, from home.
Regardless, Jimmie Johnson remains focused on unfinished business with pursuing his eighth Cup Series championship. Already tied with Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for the most Cup titles, the Californian has the makings to challenge for NASCAR history in 2020.
Recently, I remotely caught up with Johnson before the return of on-track NASCAR action. Covering a wide variety of topics, it’s safe to say, after various interviews, Johnson’s approachability, candor, and humor will be missed. Without further ado, let’s get “In the Hot Seat with Jimmie Johnson!”
Rob Tiongson : As the season resumes following the COVID-19 hiatus, what’s your initial feelings with returning to the seat of your No. 48 Ally Chevrolet and being an integral part of NASCAR’s return?
Jimmie Johnson : Well, first and foremost, we are still thinking of those who have been affected by this pandemic and hope people continue to be safe. I have missed racing more than anything in the world!
Tiongson : Over the years, you’ve had a “Who’s Who” of superstar teammates in your NASCAR and motorsports career. Who are some teammates that you feel you’ve learned a great deal from, not only with racing, but with life, and what were the qualities that you admired about them?
Johnson : Gosh, great question. There have been so many and I have always been close to all my teammates. I feel like Jeff Gordon has been so instrumental to my career – on and off the track. He is a true champion, and amazing father, a smart businessman and just an all-around great person.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and I became close while he was at Hendrick. I still see and talk to him a lot. Dale is a really sensitive, introspective and deep person. The guy has a heart of gold and it’s been amazing to see him become a husband and a father. His career in the booth is also a natural for him. So, I would have to say Dale Jr. and Jeff for sure.
Tiongson : You’ve competed against some of the best in the world of racing. Who are some of your most memorable rivals and which of those on-track battles stand out to you?
Johnson : Battling with Carl Edwards in Atlanta and Denny Hamlin for championships in Miami– even Kurt Busch when things came down to the wire. Competing against Jeff was tough at times too. There is a level of respect we all have for each other, but we have had some great on-track battles.
Tiongson : You’ve been absolutely devoted with your physical fitness, whether it’s running, cycling, or competing in triathlons. What sparked your interest with this, and how much time do you spend working out to maintain or strengthen yourself?
Johnson : Yes, my training has become a lifestyle. Although during this time away I admit I have hit the refrigerator a little too much (laughs). I try to spend a few hours a day training. It helps me physically and mentally.
Tiongson : While you are closing the chapter of your full-time NASCAR Cup Series career, what’s it mean, to you, to share this year’s experiences with family and friends, even with what’s happened in our country and world?
Johnson : It’s not going to look the way I expected it to. We will just have to see how this plays out. And I hope that at some point family, friends and fans can come back to the track. Either way, I am going to try to go out on top. I want that Peyton Manning moment at the end of this.
Tiongson : It’s not often that an athlete can say that they’ve competed for one team during the entire career as many great ones have moved on to other organizations at some point. How special has it been to race for only Hendrick Motorsports in your NASCAR Cup Series career?
Johnson : It’s been incredible. That place is my family. I’ve made friends there, watched people go through all kinds of life changes, and Mr. Hendrick has always been there for me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s been the best experience ever.
Tiongson : You were a great sport about your eNASCAR and sim racing efforts as you competed in some INDYCAR Challenge races. What were your takeaways with taking on the world of iRacing in your familiar No. 48 Chevy and in an IndyCar?
Johnson : My takeaway is for me to not quit my day job and become an iRacer (haha!) The sims are cool, but nothing really compares for me to the real thing.
Tiongson : Let’s say that Hendrick Motorsports threw a “Virtual Jimmie Johnson Appreciation Day” for you and your fans. Which musicians would you invite to perform for your and your supporters, and would there be the chance you’d sing or perform a musical instrument with one of the musicians?
Johnson : I’m a music guy, so I would say the lineup would include Snoop Dogg, Darius Rucker, Chris Stapleton, The Avett Brothers, Midland, my buddy Doug Keith, G Love, Metallica, and if John Denver was still alive I would love to hear him sing. I would play the triangle or cowbell.
Tiongson : As we’ve all adjusted to this temporary, new “normal” in our lives, what’s been some of the positive takeaways for you that you feel reenergized your outlook with racing and your perspective with life outside of the track?
Johnson : I’ve developed a newfound respect for frontline heroes. I have cherished every minute with my family and I have learned to be a homeschool educator. I can do mainstream media over a thing called Zoom. So many new things I never thought we would have to do.
Tiongson : If a movie production company approached you about making a biopic film about you and your racing career, which actor would you want to have portray you on the big screen?
Johnson : (laughs) I would have to say maybe James Franco.