Without new deal, Johnson committed to winning for Hendrick
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Jimmie Johnson wants to kneel down and kiss the Indy bricks for a fifth time.
He wants a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
And he wants to do it all – for now, forever – with Hendrick Motorsports and trusted crew chief Chad Knaus calling the shots.
Johnson and Knaus have yet to sign contract extensions with the only organization they have called their professional home, though Johnson called a new deal nothing more than a formality.
Unfortunately for the rest of the field, there’s no sign that NASCAR’s most successful team is on the verge of a breakup.
“We are obviously not concerned,” Johnson said Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We have been getting things buttoned up with Lowe’s, with Hendrick, with Chad and myself, all of that.”
Lowe’s is the primary sponsor on Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet and has long partnered with team owner Rick Hendrick and the driver who won five straight series championships from 2006-10 and a sixth in 2013. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt share the record with seven.
He long ago usurped Jeff Gordon as the most decorated champion on the Hendrick roster.
Johnson just can’t unseat Gordon as the most popular driver at the ol’ Brickyard.
Indy is still Gordon’s house and the five-time winner is trying to go back-to-back and win one of NASCAR’s marquee races Sunday in his final full season.
“I’m not glad to see him go,” Johnson said. “It’s been so exciting to watch Jeff win here, all the success that he’s had here. Even how crazy this place has been when (Tony) Stewart has won here, it’s cool to see the fans get behind their guy.”
Gordon was feted with a parade Thursday in his hometown of Pittsboro, Indiana, where he was presented with Indiana’s highest civilian award and became an honorary member of the local police department.
He grew up thinking he’d race at Indy in an open wheel car.
So did Johnson, a California kid who would rearrange the couch cushions so he could pretend he was sitting in a race car and called Indy great Rick Mears one of his childhood favorites.
“My whole world was the Indy 500,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s career path, though, very early steered toward stock cars and he eventually rumbled down the straightaway in a vehicle with a roof.
“I wanted to be here and race in an open wheel car,” Johnson said. “NASCAR, just with the television package and media coverage then, it wasn’t all that popular, especially in the ’70s and ’80s when I was coming up. My whole direction and kind of guidance from Chevrolet was to move from off road trucks, to Trans Am, to Indy Lights to IndyCar.”
Johnson and Mears share a slice of Brickyard history, with each driver winning his sport’s signature Indy race four times. Race fans love to debate the records – are Gordon and Formula One ace Michael Schumacher’s five victories comparable to the four Indy 500s won by Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser?
Johnson, eighth all-time with 74 wins in NASCAR’s top series, can’t even compare winning at Indy to winning the Daytona 500.
“To win here, granted it’s in a different vehicle, but it still has so much meaning to me because I sat on the couch watching it for years, the 500 with my dad and my grandfather and it really was the race for me growing up,” Johnson said. “Clearly, I learned about Daytona later on and have been very fortunate to experience both. It’s hard to pick one.”
Even with a new rules package that produces higher drag in an effort to improve passing opportunities, Johnson remains a favorite to win No. 5 on Sunday.
“I don’t know how many Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have won together, but I’ll guess it’s half of them, right?” 2010 Brickyard winner Jamie McMurray said.
Close. Johnson and Gordon have won nine of 21 races since NASCAR stormed Indy for the first time in 1994.
Here’s a look at the four times Johnson kissed the Yard of Bricks.
Aug. 6, 2006: Still seeking his first Cup championship, Johnson rebounded from a flat tire and a faulty radio. Johnson won the season-opening Daytona 500, joining Dale Jarrett (1996) as the only drivers to win at Daytona and Indy in the same season.
July 27, 2008: Johnson outran Carl Edwards in a seven-lap sprint to the finish in a race marred by Goodyear’s tire debacle. Johnson won a race where the longest green-flag run was 12 laps.
July 26, 2009: Johnson became the first driver to win in consecutive seasons. He sailed to the front and pulled away, only to have to hold off Mark Martin over a nerve-racking final five laps. He took advantage when leader Juan Pablo Montoya was busted for speeding on pit road.
July 29, 2012: Johnson joined Gordon as the only NASCAR drivers to win four times at the historic 2.5-mile track. Johnson celebrated during a unique family moment of his own after the race, taking a victory lap in a pace car with his wife, daughter and crew all piled on board.