Daytona 500 champ Johnson ready to get back into racing routineBy Kelly Crandall
As a five-time champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Jimmie Johnson is used to media attention.
He’s traveled the country before. Has made numerous appearances not only on behalf of sponsors, but as part of his champion obligations. And often times he’s answered the same questions every which way he could think of.
But after winning his second Daytona 500 last Sunday night, Johnson found himself experiencing the media tour all over again. After he and his Lowe’s team put their winning Chevrolet in the Daytona USA museum bright and early Monday morning, Johnson embarked on a three-day media tour in honor of his big win.
“Everywhere we went, the fans that gathered to be a part of the shows I was on, it just had a feel that it was really one of the biggest things I’ve ever done in my career,” said Johnson on Friday at Phoenix on his experience.
“It was just eye opening to me how big this race is and really the popularity of NASCAR right now, I think we’re off to a really strong start this year from a fan viewing situation. From attendance hopefully will rally and follow. The impressions, the eyeballs, you know everybody that’s watching right now, it was noticeable from my perspective.”
Johnson’s first 500 win in 2006 paved the way towards his first championship later that season. It was the first taste of a media tour that Johnson got, something that he admitted this week he might not have soaked in as well as he could. This time around, he said he could feel the energy and the excitement that radiated from everyone he came in contact with.
The start of a new season just a piece of it. The introduction of NASCAR’s new car, the NSCS arrival of Danica Patrick, who sat on the pole for the 500 and finished eighth, are just a few of the things Johnson believes has the sport sitting pretty moving forward.
“We’ve [NASCAR] been growing over the last few years and a lot of it I put a lot of credit towards the personalities of the drivers coming out,” Johnson said. “It kind of goes back to the point a few years ago back when NASCAR said they were going to take the gloves off and let us have at it and that’s led to some exciting things on track, but also the emersion of personality and I think that’s been helpful.”
By midweek Johnson could admit that he was feeling the fatigue and longed for some sleep. As the series now shifts to Phoenix he will happily get back into his racing routine. But he’s also pulling double duty, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide Series team on Saturday afternoon.
With how much Phoenix has changed over the years, Johnson’s decision to run the race was with track time in mind. His success hasn’t carried over since the track was remodeled and repaved and Johnson’s looking for anything to help him improve his performance.
And that’s where Johnson’s mind is currently at, Daytona now far behind. And for as busy as he was, it hasn’t slowed him down. He qualified third for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 and he was among the fastest on the Nationwide Series pylon as well.
“I’m excited to be at the track and get back to something, just to be back to normalcy and get a good night’s rest,” he said. “I got a lot of sleep, but I still think I need another night to catch up … What an experience. I won the Daytona 500 in 2006 and then championship after. Maybe I just wasn’t aware of how much range the 500 had or maybe things have changed between 2006 and now.
“We certainly came off a very popular Daytona 500, but the reception, the reach of this win, it felt like I was on a championship tour, and it was for the Daytona 500. Very special week for me, very tiring week, and I’m ready to get back in the car.”