After a two-year hiatus, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team are once again the toast of Las Vegas.
Johnson’s five-year hold on the Sprint Cup Series championship was interrupted by the title runs of Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski in 2011 and 2012, respectively, but Johnson finds himself back at the head table of Friday night’s Sprint Cup Series Awards show at the Wynn Las Vegas.
Now a six-time series champion, much of talk since Johnson’s clinching performance on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway has been on how soon he will match the NASCAR record of seven titles held by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Forgive Johnson if he wishes to spend some additional time in the present rather than turn his attention immediately to the future.
“I’ve worked so hard and long to get to this point, I’m finally on top of my game. I’ve worked a lifetime to get here,” Johnson said.
“There’s more motivation staying on top for those reasons than chasing stats and the historical things that are out there in front of me now, it’s really something that comes from within.”
Johnson talked recently with reporters about how long the “buzz” of this championship will last, how long he will race and how winning a championship with his family on hand changed the experience.
Q: How quickly did the buzz from winning the championship wear off?
A: It will last a while for sure. Preseason testing will start things focusing back on the year really. For me, it’s really February when we get to Daytona and we start racing. It might linger a few more weeks after that when I’m introduced in various situations. When timing and scoring goes hot again and it matters, that’s when things transition into the new year.
Q: With the recent exit of Dario Franchitti from IndyCar, is there a point you’ve set where the danger gets too much, or will you race as long as you want?
A: Danger in our sport is something I’ve faced since I was a kid racing dirt bikes. I think racers like to ignore those dangers. We pursue our passions and our dreams. As time has gone on, the advancement of safety, especially the NASCAR tracks you compete on, we’ve been really able to make our sport safe.
Again, there are dangers. There are things that I choose to overlook. Having a family does make me think at times, especially when I’m out of the car. But, again, it’s what I do.”
Q: What is it like now having a family to celebrate with?
A: It’s been an incredible experience. There’s such joy and pride. My family makes a lot of sacrifices to support me. There was just an overwhelming sense of pride. It comes from a lot of different angles, the work that goes into it, the sacrifice. I’m just a proud father and a proud husband.
There’s something activated in me – I think all parents can speak to this – once you have kids and they’re born, your heart changes and you love in different ways, a different capacity. All that stuff is going on and leads me down the road to where I am today, the position I’m in today, enjoying those moments.