NASCAR CUP SERIES
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, CONCORD, NC
JIMMIE JOHNSON & RICK HENDRICK MEDIA EVENT
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
NOVEMBER 21, 2019
JIMMIE JOHNSON, THE SEVEN-TIME NASCAR CHAMPION AND ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL DRIVERS IN AUTO RACING HISTORY, WILL COMPETE IN HIS 19TH AND FINAL FULL-TIME CUP SERIES SEASON IN 2020. HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS OWNER, RICK HENDRICK AND JIMMIE JOHNSON MET WITH MEDIA AND DISCUSSED FUTURE PLANS, PAST ACHIEVEMENTS, AND MUCH MORE. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU TOLD THE GIRLS? WHAT WAS THEIR REACTION?
“Yesterday when we were having breakfast, I was showing the girls the video we pushed out on social media. Breakfast is a very important part of the day, a focal point for my kids. Lydia was midway through her pancakes when I started the video, and could not be bothered by the video and wanted me to pass the butter (laughs).”
SO, YOUR RETIREMENT NOW HAS BEEN TRUMPED BY BUTTER?
“It was (laughs).”
“She’s been processing it. She just wants dad to be happy and it has been an exciting couple of days. I’m so proud of you for coming up here and speaking, I know that was tough.”
WHAT HAVE THE LAST FEW DAYS BEEN LIKE?
“It’s been interesting because I’ve worked through my headspace, and then came to see Rick (Hendrick) and spent some time with Jeff (Gordon). That’s all three weeks to a month ago, if not a little longer. I’m a little further down the road and I’m so excited to be where I am today. To be in this press conference today and tell everyone what my plans are. So, I’m very excited and I’m just ready to get 2020 started. The process has been interesting; telling friends, telling my team yesterday. To sit the team down, the people that have worked on the 48 from the beginning, that was probably one of the harder ones I think that I had. Chad (Knaus) and I went to dinner the other night; I did catch his attention when I mentioned it to him. But it’s been an interesting process and a day you can never really plan for. It’s here and I’m just thankful to just be with family and friends. This man right here (Rick Hendrick) and all he’s done for my life.”
THINK BACK ON THE PAST 24 – 26 HOURS; THE REACTION FROM THE INDUSTRY, THE FANS, WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO THAT? WHAT STOOD OUT IN YOUR MIND?
“It’s been amazing. When I look back on the years I’ve had so far in NASCAR, I fall back into thinking about the experiences and the people; those are the memories that come to mind. Holding a trophy in victory lane or on the stage in Las Vegas that we’ve been on several times, it’s the people. So, to see some of my peers and their remarks, the phone calls, to connect with those people, text messages, whatever it may be; that part really filled my heart.”
MR. HENDRICK, WE WILL TALK ABOUT TODAY IN A LITTLE BIT, BUT I’VE GOT TO GO BACK TO 2000-2001. I KNEW JIMMIE’S CAREER IN THE BUSCH SERIES WAS NOT STELLAR. BUT, WITH THAT BEING SAID, WHAT DID JEFF (GORDON) SAY TO YOU TO CONVINCE YOU THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON WAS THE GUY TO PUT IN ANOTHER HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS CAR?
“I think he said ‘we don’t have a sponsor and I’m up for it if you are’. I thought that was a pretty darn good commitment. Jimmie was a good friend of my son Ricky (Hendrick) and Ricky told me he was going to be a champion. The only time I’ve waited three or four hours to go home after a race was the night that Ricky invited Jimmie to ride home with us. On the third lap, Ricky’s alternator went out, so we waited.”
Jimmie Johnson: “Ricky ran into the transporter after the race was over and said ‘hey man, mom and dad are waiting for us on the plane; let’s go!’.”
DID JEFF (GORDON) EVER TELL YOU WHAT YOU DID ON THE RACE TRACK THAT IMPRESSED HIM?
“We’ve talked some about it. I know what I did in Michigan to catch his attention. My hero is in front of me and in the closing laps of the race, I made a heavy commitment to drive past him on the last lap. Luckily, I didn’t clean us both out in the process (laughs).”
FAST FORWARD TO TODAY, MR. HENDRICK, I THINK JIMMIE TOLD YOU ABOUT THREE WEEKS AGO THAT THIS WAS THE DIRECTION THAT HE WAS GOING. TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT DISCUSSION, THAT PROCESS AND YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THAT.
“Shocked. Every time one of these drivers call me and come to my house, I know that’s not a good situation (laughs). Everybody knows Jimmie; he processes everything. When he’s made up his mind, he’s not wishy-washy at all. He’s done so much for us and for the sport. If you just said I’m going to make a list of what the perfect driver would be, from the talent to the ability to work with sponsors and athlete, he’s just raising the bar for our company. From fitness to charity, it’s unbelievable how perfect he is. So, whatever he wanted, I wanted for him. I told him that this year; I said we’re not on a clock, you tell me what you want to do and we’ll make it work. I thought he deserved that from our company. I knew the day would come; I should be the one retiring (laughs). I’m happy for him because I want to see what the next chapter is. He has set the foundation and the benchmark for us at this company that we’ll always stride to get there. He’s going to be a buddy, a friend, and go do things together. He’s just an unbelievable person and an unbelievable friend. So, he’s not just a driver, he’s family.”
YOU’VE MENTIONED WHAT HE MEANS TO YOU PERSONALLY, WHAT HE’S MEANT TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS. HOW WOULD YOU PUT INTO CONTEXT WHAT HE HAS MEANT TO THE SPORT OF NASCAR?
“I’m not sure I could have gotten drivers to want to get together and debrief. Jimmie said, we should do that, and they did it. Everybody came, that’s where it started in the sport. He was the guy that put that together. I just think when you look back at a seven-time champion, he did it right; he represented the sport as a true champion. You never had to make an excuse for Jimmie Johnson. He was always on his mark. He never embarrassed anybody. He is a role model for kids, a role model for drivers and an athlete that I’ve never seen in any kind of sport. He’s that much committed to what he does in his job and to his family. I see a lot of his friends here; he’s a special guy. I just feel very blessed that I can have a guy like this and I can thank Jeff (Gordon) for pushing me along. I’m just very blessed to have known him, have him in that car, and win all the championships and all the races that he’s done for us.”
JIMMIE, WHAT WAS THE TIPPING POINT THAT YOU FINALLY REALIZED I’M GOING TO RETIRE, THIS IS WHAT I’M GOING TO DO AND I’M COMFORTABLE WITH THE DECISION?
“Many of you that know me, I like to have a plan and I like to think things through. I did plenty of that through the spring and summer, just knowing I have to make a decision. In my mind, I felt like I needed to make a decision by the end of the year. Nothing really hit me in the gut with the feeling that I wanted to stay or stop at the end of 2020. As the year went on and we rolled into October, the feeling just became real. It really did and it felt good to think about. 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 (Chandra); it was just that strong in my stomach. I was like ‘wow, this is what I want to do’. So, of course I had to talk to Chandra and then take some time to kind of speak to Rick and Jeff. I feel very, very good about my decision. It’s time. I feel so fortunate that it showed up to me in that way. 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.”
JIMMIE, THAT MOMENT YESTERDAY WHEN YOU SAID YOU INTERRUPTED THE PANCAKES, IT SOUNDS LIKE A MOMENT WHERE BEING A DAD EXCEEDS BEING A NASCAR DRIVER. HOW MANY MOMENTS HAVE YOU HAD LIKE THAT RECENTLY THAT MAYBE IT OCCURRED TO YOU THAT FAMILY WAS A BIG REASON TO MAKE THIS DECISION? HOW MUCH DID YOUR DAUGHTERS AND CHANDRA IMPACT THIS?
“Yeah, absolutely. At the end of the day, this is about time. When I look at next year, I’ve been dreaming of racing as much as I could for forty years. I started racing dirt bikes at five and I’ve chased this that whole way. We waited to start our family a little bit later, just trying to be smart with timing in some respects. I know myself and I knew that at some point, that was really going to really weigh on me to want to be around a lot more. It’s hard to believe they are nine and six now, but I just have a fire in me to push for that and stay at the track. I still have that fire and I am coming back next year. 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 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.”
WHAT DO YOU HOPE RETIREMENT LOOKS LIKE FOR YOU?
“This is not a retirement from driving race cars. This is just slowing down from 38 weekends a year, and you certainly know the stress, pressure and grind that it takes. 19 years in Cup and 2 years in the Xfinity Series, plus everything before that, it’s been a heck of a run and we’ll keep going.”
RICK, WHEN DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING IN PLACE FOR WHO IS GOING TO BE IN THE 48? BY 2021, YOUR DRIVERS WILL HAVE A LOT MORE EXPERIENCE.
“Yeah, I’ve already picked a guy. Jeff Gordon is coming back (laughs). Listen, we have another year. Our company is really excited; we’re going to put everything we got into all our cars. With Chad (Knaus) sitting here as a big part in Jimmie’s career and what he’s done for this company, it’s our goal to get him the absolute best and we want to see him go out on top; winning and getting that championship. We actually talked about that the day after we got back from the race in Homestead.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON: “This is not retirement from racing; this is stepping down from the 38 weeks a year that it takes to be competitive and the time that goes with that. I would come back and drive Cup for Mr. Hendrick; all options are open, honestly. I really look forward to what might develop in the 12 months from now and the opportunities that might be out there. I wouldn’t mind going and getting dirty again, with the history I have of off-road racing in the dirt. 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, and take it from there.”
ARE THERE BUCKET LIST ITEMS FOR THE FAMILY THAT YOU GUYS HAVE TO DO SOMETHING OR GO SOMEWHERE TOGETHER?
“We love to travel. I could see us going places and traveling around the world. It is still new and we are still working through that whole process. We don’t know what 2021 will ultimately look like for us. Good news, we’ve got a year to kind of work through that stuff and see where we’ll be.”
WHAT WAS ALLY’S RESPONSE TO THE NEWS?
“Well, that day, we were up front with them. They were hoping that Jimmie would run for five more years, but they knew that and they were aware that that could happen. And they’re excited because I think you’ll see Ally get behind him as a sponsor in his last year like you’ve never seen anyone send a guy out before. And so, they’re happy for Jimmie. They’re not happy that he’s not going to be there, but they’re good with it.”
OF ALL THE 83 POINTS-PAYING CUP RACES THAT YOU’VE WON SO FAR IN YOUR CAREER, WHICH ONE DO YOU THINK WAS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT OR THE ONE THAT YOU VALUE THE MOST.
“For me, I go to the first. My dream was to be a Cup driver and to win a race. That was the top for me. So to be able to do that in my 13th start at my home track (Fontana, CA), that was a very special moment.”
MODERATOR – WINSTON KELLY
“THAT REMINDS ME OF THE CONVERSATION I THINK I’VE HEARD. TELL THE STORY OF THE FIRST MEETING YOU HAD WITH LOWE’S. I THINK WAS THE CEO BOB TILLMAN, AT THE TIME?
“Bob Tillman, yes. We had a meeting just across the street over here in Rick’s old office area. And, the Lowe’s folks were there and Tillman was waiting for me to arrive. I had a sponsor commitment for my Busch team and was just getting back to town from it. And, Bob wanted to look me in the eyes and find out if I was really willing to man-up and win a race for the company. At that point, I hadn’t won a race. And literally stared across the boardroom table and put me on the spot. He asked me if I thought I was able to win a race. And I dug deep and sat there and I felt like I lied right into his eyes and I said, ‘Yes sir, I can’! (laughter) Thankfully we’ve delivered 83 times since.” (more laughter)
YOU SAID YOU STILL HAVE THE FIRE TO COMPETE AND DO WELL NEXT YEAR. WHAT IS THE OUTLOOK FOR 2020 KNOWING THAT 2019 DIDN’T END THE WAY YOU WANTED IT TO. IS IT TO WIN AND MAKE THE PLAYOFFS AND STILL CONTEND FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? DID THE 2021 CAR PLAY INTO YOUR DECISION AT ALL, KNOWING THAT IT’S GOING TO BE A COMPLETE RE-SET?
“First of all, the outlook for next year is to absolutely win races and be in that championship four. If’ you’re in that championship four, at Phoenix now, you’ve got a shot. And that is absolutely the goal for next year. I have the fire. Our team is getting stronger. I think Hendrick Motorsports as a whole; we’ve had a great evolution through the course of 2019. We have some new things coming our way for 2020. And just pulling back and looking at the opportunity this company has in 2020, and then myself, with it being my final full-time year, that’s a special opportunity. And that did kind of go into my thought process in my head, which I’ve probably never shared. Twenty years has always felt like a nice round number to be a full-time driver. I can see what 2020 looks like. I don’t know, much like all of us, what 2021 looks like. So, it didn’t play a role in my decision-making process. But, when I’m looking around trying to find things to sway me one way or the other, it’s like man, 2020 just looks like an awesome opportunity.”
WHAT IS ‘THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY THAT STILL GNAWS AT YOU WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT’?
“There’s two. There’s probably more than two. But, the Coke 600. For the rookie year, the Coke 600, I’m really soft at getting in the pit box. Chad is like c’mon buddy, get into the pit box harder. Get it in here, get it in here! I slide through the box. Com out in third or fourth and work my way back to second and left that one on the table. That one I definitely remember. For years after that, Chad just said, hey, take your time….come on in at your own pace (laughter). One other one is, and I still today swear that I should have 12 wins at Dover. Juan Pablo (Montoya) spun the tires on a restart and bailed and made me look bad and I beat him to the start/finish line and got called on it. So, that’s another one that comes to mind.”
IS THERE A SPECIFIC TRACK THAT YOU’RE GOING TO MISS GOING TO?
“I really do enjoy racing at all of them. I think it took me a little while to fall in love with the road courses, which is kind of odd with my background, but I really enjoyed going there. Dover is always going to have a special place in my heart. But, it’s so new, so I’m not sure what I’m going to miss. But first look at it, there’s nothing that I’m eager to get away from. I’m excited to go back and see these places and race at these places and see my fans. Maybe my last Daytona 500. Some of these moments that are going to be out there are going to be really special, so my head is much more in that space.”
OF HIS 83 WINS, WHICH ONE STANDS OUT TO YOU THE MOST?
“I think the first one. I think that’s always the one that breaks the ice. And I was standing with (Bob) Tillman in your pits when you slid through the box (laughter). I think it’s the first one. You think about the championship and think about Daytona and you think about Indy. He had so many wins. But the celebration when you win your first one, I think that’s the one.”
CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE CONVERSATION WITH RICK WHEN YOU TOLD HIM?
“Yeah, it was three weeks ago or something like that, at his house. On a funny note, I did mention to him I think twice, maybe three times that 2020 was going to be my last year. He never reacted. And then the fourth time he said, ‘I guess you’re serious about this, aren’t you?’ (laughter)
“I was waiting for something else beyond that.”
SEVERAL YEARS AGO AFTER YOU WON SIX TITLES, WE ASKED WHAT YOU HOPED YOUR LEGACY IS. YOU SAID YOU HAD A HELL OF A LOT MORE RACING LEFT TO DO. NOW YOU HAVE 38 MORE RACES. WHAT DO YOU HOPE IS YOUR LEGACY WHEN YOU’RE DONE WITH THIS?
“Legacy-wise, I feel that I’m a people-person and I’ve built a lot of extremely meaningful relationships in this industry and in this garage area. I go back to my younger years and various teams and series that I ran in, and there’s always been a feeling there in a friendship and a bond and a respect. Ultimately, it’s that respect and being one of the good guys out there on the track. When I think back on my 18 years so far, my mind goes to those memories and to the people that I share those memories with. Notwithstanding, holding a trophy somewhere. So, it’s much more of that headspace of being remembered than stats. It’s more of that heartfelt thing than stats.”
WHAT DO YOU HOPE JIMMIE’S LEGACY IS, TOO?
“I think that the kind of person he is, everybody looks at the stats. And yeah, he is a seven-time champion, five-in-a-row and I’m thinking will I ever do that again. But, I think the respect he has from other athletes that aren’t in our sport, other people that he is friends with, but I think when you can do it and do it right and win like he did and set records that probably no one will ever break, and nobody can say anything bad about Jimmie Johnson. On the track, off the track; I mean I think sometimes people didn’t respect him because he was too perfect. You know, that he didn’t have that big edge. But, he could win and do it like that and be a gentleman and race people clean and ever had any problems. And so when history looks back at him, they’ll say that this guy was an unbelievable athlete, father, charities, and he and Chani give so much away. In every box that you check in life (like) what you do with kids, how you raise your family, and you’re a champion. And every sponsor that he’s had, they love him to death. I just think the stats speak for themselves. But, people are going to remember the man, Jimmie Johnson.”
YOU HAVE 7 CHAMPIONSHIPS. LOOKING BACK OVER THOSE, WHICH ONE JUMPS OUT TO YOU AS THE TOUGHEST….THE ONE THAT YOU THOUGHT WAS GOING TO SLIP THROUGH YOUR FINGERS?
“For me it was ’06, for sure. We had some trouble in the way the Playoff format worked out. We had two big moments. One was in Talladega that everybody probably remembers…..trying to pass Dale for the win Vickers and I get tangled-up and we spin Dale and at that point, with just a handful of races left in the championship, I didn’t think it was going to happen and it did. That’s the one that comes to mind for me.”
“I thought his seventh because I didn’t think we were really going to be in it, the way we were running. And then a caution at the end and he got up on the wheel and I think that was one that you didn’t have any time to get ready for. It was just like in a few laps and hey you were the champion. It was unbelievable.”
AS MUCH AS YOU’VE DONE ON THE TRACK, YOU’VE DONE EVEN MORE OFF THE TRACK. EXPLAIN WHY IT’S IMPORTANT THAT YOU DO GIVE BACK AND MAYBE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE MEMORIES OVER THE YEARS THROUGH YOUR FOUNDATION AND HOW DO YOU PLAN TO CONTINUE THAT WHEN YOU’VE FINISHED RACING?
“I’ve always just felt extremely blessed and fortunate to be in the situation I’m in. As time went on, we felt like we could help more and at a larger level. But, that opportunity was set up just due to the experiences I had as a kid in racing in the off-road series. The series would take the drivers to a local children’s hospital and we’d walk the floors and pass out hats and stickers and stuff and that just left a mark in my mind and in my heart, I guess, more than anything; and how it felt to give and put a smile on someone’s face. That’s why our foundation focuses primarily on children. Our early focus was families in need. We built a block in my hometown and put families in some homes with Habitat for Humanity. I guess the bowling ally at Victory Junction Gang Camp was our first project that we funded. And now we’re involved with public education. So, I’m a kid at heart and that memory and that experience that I have, being a young teenager, going into a children’s hospital has stuck with me today and has really led our focus to where it is now charity-wise.”
FOR 18 YEARS, YOU’VE BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING VANILLA AND BORING. AT THE END OF 2020, IS THAT WILD SIDE GOING TO BECOME MORE PUBLIC?
“I guess we’ll find out.” (laughter)
WHEN ARE WE GOING TO SEE THE CAREFREE JIMMIE?
“When my head it out of the racing space, and I’ve said this all along. I’m not very smart. So, when I come to the track I’ve got to try really hard and that prevents me from being the person you see that’s so carefree (laughter).
YOU’VE SEEN A LOT OF RACE CAR DRIVERS AND EMPLOYED A LOT OF DRIVERS, WHAT DO YOU THINK ALLOWED JIMMIE TO BE SO SUCCESSFUL FOR SO LONG?
“I think his drive. I think his attention to detail. His work ethic. Trying to prepare for the season. He’s like a computer in the car. He and Chad (Knaus) were the dynamic duo. And I would listen on the radio as he would break the corner down to like a tenth. And the way he could do that running 200 mph, was pretty remarkable. And, I just think he wanted it so bad and he, I mean he was like in the car or out of the car, and I think the combination was unbelievable. If he’s going to run a marathon, he’s going to be the best. Whatever he decides he wants to do, he wants to be the best. He prepares for it. I think you just don’t find a lot of people in life that are willing to make the sacrifice. When they set a goal, they absolutely will never yield from what it takes to get it done.”
NOW YOU’VE PUT YOURSELF ON THE FREE AGENT MARKET TO RUN IMSA AND INDYCAR, STREET AND ROAD COURSES. HAVE YOU MADE INROADS ON THAT? HAVE YOU TALKED TO ANY TEAMS?
“No, I haven’t talked to anybody.”
JUST HAD TO CONFIRM
“I saw them all pinging me on social media, like hey, dibs! Come race here (laughter). Even the World of Outlaws sent me a tweet.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY PREFERENCE ON TEAMS OR SERIES?
“No, nothing now. I haven’t even thought about it.”
AND THEN DID 2019 AND THE STRUGGLES IMPACT THIS DECISION?
“Truthfully, it had very little implication on me making this decision. There’s been a feeling I’ve been waiting for. And in getting older and later in my career, I’ve just been aware of it. I’ve been waiting for that feeling to show up and I didn’t know when and I didn’t know why, but it did. And, in my heart of hearts, it was not because of the struggles of the last couple of years. Life is a journey, as we all know. Motorsports is a ruthless sport. And, it doesn’t matter who you are. It can beat you up and spit you out the other side. I feel so fortunate that I had just this magical moment for so many years with five in a row and the seven championships that we had. The journey to get there was a long, challenging one. We’ve joked about my ‘stellar’ Busch Series career some but I feel like these last two years are kind of like I’m back in that Busch car a little bit (laughs). And, I say that with a lot of respect to that moment in time in that Busch car because that gave me a stronger work ethic. That lit the fire. That made me work harder. And then when timing was right and my opportunity was right, I took the most of that opportunity and made stuff happen. And I feel like that’s coming. I feel like 2020 can be that moment for me. And these last two years have been part of that in building up for what could be a really special year.”
THROUGHOUT YOUR YEARS OF RACING, YOU’VE KNOWN AND SEEN RICHARD PETTY AND DALE EARNHARDT, SR. RACE. WHAT IS ONE QUALITY OR ELEMENT ABOUT DALE AND ONE ABOUT RICHARD THAT YOU SEE IN JIMMIE?
‘Golly, I didn’t see Richard race that much in his prime. But, he was good everywhere. And, Jimmie has been that way. Dale was a different driver than Jimmie. Jimmie has been more of a finesse driver. And I’ve always been amazed to watch him at a place like California, where he talks about drifting into the corner at 220 mph and letting the car slide up to the wall, and he’s a half-second quicker than everybody else. And I think Dale was an intimidator. Dale could figure out how to get to the end of a race and have a chance to win it in every race. I would have liked to have seen them all run together at their prime. But, I think they are three different kinds of drivers, looking back and remembering the talent that all of them had. But, I think Jimmie has been like a machine that could really dissect a car like I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if I answered your question, but it would be hard to compare because they are different styles and different eras and then a bias-ply tire and a radial tire, it’s hard to compare.”
WAS THERE ANYTHING ON OR OFF THE TRACK THAT YOU SAW?
“I think Richard Petty is a great ambassador. I can’t believe at his age that he still does what he does for our sport. He’s the ‘King’ and will always be the ‘King’, and I think Dale had a tremendous amount of fans and I was amazed when he passed at the reaction that the world had. Both of those guys really, are legendary and they made a big mark in our sport. And, I think Jimmie is going to be in that same category, I know he is, because of his championships. Sometimes after when you retire, people really appreciate you more than when you’re actually in the fight.”
THE NIGHT BEFORE YOU MADE YOUR FIST QUALIFYING ATTEMPT AT CHARLOTTE WAS THE ACCIDENT WITH BLAISE ALEXANDER. YOU’VE ALWAYS HONORED HIM WITH HAVING HIS INITIALS ON THE LEFT FRONT BUMPER OF YOUR CAR. THAT’S QUITE A TRIBUTE FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT ALL THESE THINGS?
“Wow, you have a good memory. Man. I hadn’t thought about it one bit. Clearly he was a very special fiend. That night, and losing him, and just everything about it was crazy. And, I guess that was in ’01. So, it will be 20 full years when it’s all said and done because that next morning, I came to drive my Xfinity car and Blaise was very close with a lot of guys on my team. And one of the guys took a sharpie and drew that on the left-front of the car. And then he ended-up coming to work at Hendrick Motorsports for us and started with a sharpie drawing that on every week and eventually made a sticker that went on. So, it’s been on ever since that night. But, it would be a heck of a tribute and thank you for bringing that up. I’m not sure I would have picked-up on it anytime soon. And, I’m still very close with his family and will definitely find a way to have some moments around that.”
AS YOU LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT SEASON, YOU’VE SEEN TEAMMATES AND OTHER DRIVER GO THROUGH THIS RETIREMENT PROCESS IN RECENT YEARS. IS THERE ONE RACE OR MOMENT YOU ARE EAGERLY AWAITING ABOVE OTHERS?
“I think the magnitude of being my last Daytona 500 is in the forefront of my mind and what that might be like. In my heart, I’m excited that I know what next year looks like because California is really on the schedule to go back to my home track, I’d glad I have that answer, and we can go home and celebrate. Past that, I haven’t really thought too much. But, those two tracks come to mind.”
“I don’t know how to thank you, buddy, for being a champion and the leader and friend and everything you’ve meant to this company. You’ve given us all these championships and done some unbelievable things. We’ll always be grateful. And, we’ll always be appreciative. And, I’ve got your number! (laughter)
“Thank you. I know you’ve got my number and I’m expecting it to ring and we’re going to have a lot of fun, whatever it is. But, I’m just so thankful to literally have chased the dream since I was a kid, to race. And, I’m just very, very thankful for relationships that I’ve built in this sport. My mind is running wild on me right now and I’m trying not to cry. But just, thank you.”
MODERATOR – WINSTON KELLY:
“We want to thank everybody from Jimmie’s Facebook page, NASCAR.com, and Sirius XM Channel 90 for listening. And I’d like to close with one thought that I think embodies that we’ve all had these experiences. I’m leaving the hall last night after having talked to Jesse Essex about being a part of this today, and what did I reflect on, with Jimmie. And, I recall talking about the comparisons with Jimmie and Richard and Dale. Dale Inman has a quote in Richard Petty’s video in the Hall of Fame that says, ‘What Richard did off the track impresses me a lot more than what he did on the track. And what he did on the track was pretty damn impressive’. And I’m thinking about that, and that reminds me of Jimmie Johnson. The phone rings, I look down and didn’t recognize the number and you don’t tend to take them all and I just said, ‘Hello’….’It’s Jimmie Johnson just calling to say thanks for coming today’. He didn’t need to do that. He could have done that today. We chatted for a while and I think I heard the girls in the background. But, he took the time to talk. He took the time to call. That’s quintessential, Jimmie Johnson, in my opinion. And it’s not what he’s done in the sport that I think we will remember him for, and that’s been dang impressive, but it’s what he has done for the sport and the class and character that he and Chani have done with their foundation and the kids that they’ve touched. So, on our behalf, thank you for letting us be a part of it. Thank you for being that same person and for setting that example for us and for kids. And we look forward to watch you chasing #8 this year and celebrating you much throughout the year. And oh yeah, there is a date a few years down the road that we’ll talk about later for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But, thank you so much for everything, for a great career, and we look forward to this (next) year.”
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Team Chevy high-resolution racing photos are available for editorial use.
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 100 countries and selling more than 4.0 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature engaging performance, design that makes the heart beat, passive and active safety features and easy-to-use technology, all at a value. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.