Retiring Jimmie: It Just Feels Right

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 22 2019
Jimmie Johnson talked about his decision to retire after the 2020 season on Thursday.

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Jimmie Johnson said Thursday he felt he needed to make a decision regarding retirement from full-time NASCAR competition by year’s end, but it wasn’t until October that he knew 2020 would be his final season.

“It was such a profound moment that I really take it back to the moment in time where I knew I wanted to buy a ring for her (wife Chandra). It was just that strong in my stomach,” the 44-year-old Johnson said. “I feel so fortunate that it showed up to me in that way. I feel very, very good about my decision. It’s time. 

“I’ve talked to greats like Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Everyone has had their own journey. Some of those guys maybe set a date and left before their heart really wanted to leave. There are a lot of other athletes that their time is called and they don’t have that opportunity to pick their own. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity. It just feels right.”

Johnson announced Wednesday via social media that his final full-time season in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet would be next year. He denied his decision was related to the introduction of the Gen-7 car scheduled to make its debut in NASCAR’s Cup Series in 2021. The California native who began racing dirt bikes at age 5 and made his Cup debut in 2001 pointed instead to wanting a balance in his life.

“I’ve been dreaming of racing as much as I could for 40 years,” Johnson said. “We waited to start our family a little bit later, just trying to be smart with timing in some respects. I knew that at some point that was really going to weigh on me and I would want to be around a lot more. It’s hard to believe they (daughters) are nine and six now.

“Next year is a year we are going to win races and compete for a championship. I know I can give what I need to, to this team for another year. After that, I’m ready to have some time back on my side and just have a better balance in life.”

Johnson said emphatically he wasn’t retiring from driving race cars, but simply slowing down from Cup’s grueling 38-race weekend schedule.

“I really look forward to what might develop in the 12 months from now and the opportunities that might be out there,” Johnson said. “All options are open, honestly, except Indy Car and fast ovals. I wouldn’t mind going and getting dirty again with the history I have in off-road racing. I’ll just kind of wait and see. Most importantly, I feel like I need to take a deep breath and just see what comes from there; put my family first instead of racing first for once. We don’t know what 2021 will ultimately look like for us.”

Johnson enters the 2020 season with 83 victories, which ties him with NASCAR Hall of Fame member Cale Yarborough for sixth on the Cup Series all-time win list. In 651 starts he has recorded 227 top –five and 364-top 10 finishes, 36 poles and led 18,834 laps. His seven championships tie him with NASCAR Hall of Fame members Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most in the Cup Series. However, Johnson and team owner Rick Hendrick disagree as to which title they thought would slip through their fingers. Johnson cites the 2006 championship because they had “some trouble in the way the playoff format worked out.” But Hendrick points to the record tying seventh. 

  “I didn’t think we were really going to be in it the way we were running,” Hendrick said. “Then a caution at the end and he got up on the wheel. It was unbelievable.”

Before Johnson finalized his retirement decision his sponsor, Ally Financial, extended its contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2023 season.

“They were hoping that Jimmie would run for five more years,” Hendrick said. “They’re happy for Jimmie. They’re not happy that he’s not going to be there, but they’re good with it.” 

When questioned about Johnson’s legacy, Hendrick pointed to his driver’s character rather than his statistics. 

“I mean I think sometimes people didn’t respect him because he was too perfect,” Hendrick said. “He could win … be a gentleman and race people clean and never had any problems. Every sponsor that he’s had, they love him to death. He’s not just a driver. He’s family. 

“When history looks back at him, they’ll say that this guy was an unbelievable athlete, father, charities …. In every box that you check in life (like) what you do with kids, how you raise your family, and you’re a champion. I just think the stats speak for themselves. But people are going to remember the man — Jimmie Johnson.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 22 2019
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