Opinion: In 60 seconds, Jimmie Johnson shows why NASCAR will miss seven-time champion
Jimmie Johnson announced his retirement from full-time racing following the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season by posting a video that includes clips to summarize his 83 victories and a record-tying seven championships.
Just as everything he’s done since stepping into a Hendrick Motorsports car full time in 2002, the video goes by fast. In just 60 seconds, it shows why NASCAR will profoundly miss Johnson's greatness both on and off the track.
The 44-year-old probably didn’t mean for it to come off that way. He doesn’t pound his chest. But much like his career of making things appear easy and simple, it’s the depth and the nuance that tell the story.
He ends it with a simple: “I know what this team is capable of. And I hope 2020 is one of the best yet.”
That showed his attitude. But other clips depicted the true Johnson.
His horrendous crash into a barrier following a brake failure at Watkins Glen followed by him standing atop the car proclaiming his joy in feeling invincible served as a reminder he wasn’t always a household name. Nor did he seem destined to become one.
Johnson included a clip from 2012 at Talladega Superspeedway of him riding on the windowsill of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car after both were involved in a wreck, a funny image that reflects respect for a teammate he admired and the ability to enjoy even moments of defeat.
A quick snippet showed him and 15-year-old Beau Smith, a boy born with multiple birth defects who befriended Johnson four years ago. The clip shows that Johnson gains inspiration from anyone who doesn’t blink when facing a challenge and that Johnson can inspire someone like Smith to come to the track just a few months after a kidney transplant.
Those moments signify what drives Johnson: Hard work and the competitive will to achieve greatness amid the doubt of outsiders.
While Jeff Gordon, who in 2001 recommended to team owner Rick Hendrick that he hire Johnson, brought the “Refuse to Lose” motto to NASCAR in winning four titles, Johnson perfected it.
Winning five consecutive titles from 2006-2010 and then capturing the 2013 and 2016 titles to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the sport’s only seven-time champions, Johnson rewrote the textbook on how to win races and how a driver should train for them.
Jimmie Johnson is one of just three drivers to win seven NASCAR Cup championships. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove, USA TODAY Sports)
But no driver could truly mimic Johnson and how he turned from a questionable prospect 18 years ago into a wheelman who is in the conversation of the sport’s greatest driver ever.
Johnson’s ability to handle a loose race car (stemming from his roots racing motorbikes and off-road vehicles) and carry a chip on his shoulder when needing that extra edge combined with crew chief Chad Knaus making the right adjustments based on Johnson’s tone of voice made them the team to beat no matter the race track.
He didn’t plow through people; he just maximized what the race car gave him all the while showing respect to everyone on and off the track.
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His announcement Wednesday didn’t come as a big surprise. Johnson rides a 95-race winless streak following a 2019 season in which he failed to qualify for the NASCAR playoffs for the first time.
But he will miss racing full time in 2021. While he loves winning, he appears to love competition more. He thrives on the idea of pushing himself, of setting a goal achievable only through extensive training and focus.
Triathlons inspired him during his championship seasons by requiring excellence in three disciplines, the endurance required testing his mental durability and physical strength.
He ran the Boston Marathon this year, setting a goal of three hours because he knew he wouldn’t get out of bed to train for anything less. Johnson missed that goal by nine minutes, but he still cherished the moment.
Now he has one final marathon of a NASCAR season. Johnson will relish this fight to make “2020 one of the best yet.”
Shame on anyone who counts him out.
Bob Pockrass is a FOX Sports NASCAR reporter. Follow him @bobpockrass
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