Jimmie Ponders Future As Career End Nears

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 16 2020

Jimmie Johnson could be suiting up for his final Daytona 500 on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When Jimmie Johnson climbs into his No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday it may be his last Daytona 500, but there’s no reason to be sad for him because the seven-time NASCAR champion is “energized” and “at peace” with his decision to step away from NASCAR racing full time.

The 44-year-old Johnson won’t rule out returning to the driver’s seat at Daytona International Speedway if team owner Rick Hendrick asks; however, no longer will he face the 38-week grind. Instead, Johnson will race when and where he wants. 

 “I can’t shut off my competitive nature at the end of the year and call it good,” says Johnson, who starts sixth in Sunday’s Daytona 500. “I’ve got to race. So, I’m open to things that would be fun; things that are on my bucket list.”

That bucket list includes selected NASCAR events, IndyCar, Sports Car, Off-Road, mountain bike and a marathon. He’s already been ski racing with one of his daughters.

“As far as open wheel, the (Indianapolis) 500 is passed for me,” Johnson said. “And I’d say Texas and really, the ovals. I mean, the fast ovals for sure and the smaller ovals, maybe. I haven’t had enough conversations to figure anything out, but road course racing, for me, definitely looks like a good proposition.

“What’s opened my mind to that was driving that F1 car a couple of years ago. I had no idea cars could do that. That was really a lot of fun. So, we’ll see what this year brings and what opportunities might pop-up for ’21.”

But for now it’s 2020 and it’s Johnson’s energy level that has impressed his team owner.

 “I’ve never seen Jimmie so energized,” Hendrick said. “Sometimes a guy in his last year, they’re celebrating, it’s the end.  I don’t want to say they coast, but it’s not a priority to run fast and win. Jimmie is really fired up.”

The soft-spoken Johnson’s focus this year is on winning races and claiming an unprecedented eighth NASCAR Cup championship, but he emphasizes that he’s not chasing that title. 

Johnson also noted that even though 2019 was extremely tough for him – no victories and no playoffs – it was a year of growth for him as a person.

“Making the decision to not work with Chad (Knaus) any longer, bringing  Kevin (Meendering) on (as crew chief), working with Kevin, working through the mindset that we needed to make a change, bringing Cliff (Daniels) on (as crew chief) … it wasn’t fun at all,” Johnson said. “I hate that part of the job, but I learned a lot. This team learned a lot. I think Hendrick learned a lot. So there is something positive that came from all of that.”

Johnson said 2019 taught him about Knaus’ strengths as a crew chief, and that now having Daniels in that role has brought him “so much comfort and relaxed” him. 

“Deep down in my heart I know we’re on the right path,” Johnson continued.  “I hope to look back after 2020 and say ’19 set me up to have the year I wanted to have as my final one. 

“There is an energy in my team that I haven’t seen since a championship year with Chad at the helm. It’s that energy that I’m feeding off of.”    

About a week before Johnson arrived in Daytona he said self-reflection was responsible for his peacefulness about everything in his life.

“My ultimate goal this year, through self-awareness in the off-season, is just about being present,” Johnson said.  “I’m going to get in that car. I’m going to give it 100 percent as I always do. Who knows what the outcome will be, but I’m not going to be chasing anything. I’m just trying to be present and be me.”

Once the season concludes in November, Johnson wants to know boredom, even though he admits he probably would hate it.

  “That’s just not me. It’s not been me,” Johnson said. “I’d probably … bury myself with more work in another way. But, that’s kind of the goal … to just take a deep breath and reset and, of course, be with my family and spend time with them. Just chill.”



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 16 2020
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