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Seven-Time Champion Is Feeling The Pressure To Lead

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 24 2017

Jimmie Johnson says winning an unprecedented eighth Cup championship is not his major source of pressure. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said Tuesday he feels more pressure to be the proper leader in the sport than to compete for an eighth title.

I’ve felt like there hasn’t been a lot of pressure on me through six and seven (championships) because I
never even thought I’d have one to start with,” Johnson said during the NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “When we won the five in a row and then lost that sixth, there was a weight taken off me.

“I feel a larger responsibility in being a real leader at Hendrick Motorsports and being there for my teammates and team members. I feel a stronger calling for being involved in the Drivers Council and a part of NASCAR and trying to help this sport. I’m showing up to win races and championships, but I feel almost more pressure to handle that part correctly than I do to go out and win an eighth (championship).

“Some of that could be that with Chad Knaus running your race team you’re in good shape and I know that starting my 16th season, but I’m trying really hard to not let that pressure be on me. I want to balance life … and the pressure of a professional life can really affect your personal life. I’m just trying to manage it and have a good time through it all.”

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Matt Kenseth, a long-time teammate of Carl Edwards, said Tuesday he’s still not sure he understands why Edwards suddenly walked away from the sport.

“I have talked with Carl several times since the announcement,” Kenseth said. “I asked him straight out and when I hung up it was probably less clear than before I picked it up.”

Kenseth said he and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates learned of Edwards’ decision in a conference call held four days before Edwards’ announcement earlier this month.

“I knew it was bad news because this is my fifth year there and it’s the first time we’ve ever had a conference call with all of the drivers and crew chiefs,” Kenseth said. “That was the first time I’d heard about it and I was very, very surprised. I definitely didn’t see it coming.”

However, Kenseth said that after he thought about it for a while, it shouldn’t have surprised him.

“Carl has always been his own guy,” Kenseth explained. “He’s always done his own thing and if he decided that’s what he needed to do at the time, it doesn’t shock me that he actually went through with it.”

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In 1992 Alan Kulwicki, carrying the Hooters sponsorship, narrowly defeated Bill Elliott for the then NASCAR Winston Cup championship in what has been described as NASCAR’s greatest race.

This year, Hooters returns to NASCAR’s premier series as a sponsor on Chase Elliott’s Chevrolet and the irony isn’t lost on the Elliott family.

He (Kulwicki) and my dad, obviously, had a great championship battle in 1992,” the series 2016 rookie said. “That’s obviously kind of ironic to see that, but very good. I know my dad had a lot of respect for Alan and what he did; both my parents did.”

The 21-year-old Elliott said he got to stare, but not eat, “a lot of chicken wings yesterday (Monday), which was tough, but probably a good thing. I need to get back in the gym.”

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Jimmie Johnson believes the boos he receives from the fans at driver introductions prior to a race have decreased due to his tenure in the sport.

I guess I’ve earned my spot now after 15 seasons and seven championships,” Johnson said Tuesday. “There has been a shift over the last two or three years, for sure. Homestead, and even before we won the race and the championship, they introduced us on stage and there was a much larger roar than I anticipated hearing.”

Aric Almirola says Johnson is “an incredible guy” and he considers him a “great friend”.

“He’s a fierce competitor,” Almirola said, “but out of anybody in that garage area if you were freezing cold and all you had on was a T-shirt and you needed a jacket, Jimmie Johnson would probably be the one guy from that garage area that would offer you his jacket and take it off.”

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Jimmie Johnson’s beard has become much fuller this winter and it’s because he and his family now live part-time in Aspen, Colo.

I feel very normal in Aspen with a beard like this,” Johnson said. “I came home and quickly had sticker shock or some kind of insecurity issues going with it, mainly because everybody is like, well who is that?

  “We’re not there full time. We’re there for the winter. With the West Coast races, it works to be out there. Chad (Knaus) and Rick (Hendrick) are both very much in favor of me living life and trying to find that balance of being in a place I really enjoy in the mountains. It’s so great for me and my family. So, I’ll be there for the start of the season, but will be back in Charlotte and back to the normal grind in early spring or late winter.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 24 2017
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