With his drive for five championships done, Jimmie Johnson now can focus on collecting his rewards Ð and a possible sixth Sprint Cup Series title in a row.
Johnson talked about winning another championship shortly after last Sunday's Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: What are your immediate thoughts of winning a fifth championship in a row?
Johnson: I think from where we started nine years ago, I think the headlines read before my first full season when Rick (Hendrick, car owner) hired me was, what the heck was Mr. Hendrick thinking, somewhere along those lines. To have it all come full circle, when we were sitting there with Lowe's and trying to convince them that we would have a good team and I would win a race and we would continue to win races and trying to sell, from that point on in 2000, 2001 to where we are today, it's just amazing.
Question: How does this championship compare to the other four?
Johnson: Yeah, I mean, gosh, I've always told you guys that the first championship, first win, that stuff has meant the most to me. This one, I think this takes the lead. Just the circumstances, it's not that the other Chases weren't competitive. We were stronger I think in the previous two Chases, at least. Maybe all four. But this one, I'm just so proud, because there were times on Saturday nights when we would get together and discuss our race car after practice, and we would have some tough conversations, and just struggled to get what we needed. So we have had the highs and lows of the Chase, but to have it all come around, and to look every single one of my crew guys in the eyes on that stage tonight there's a different feeling about it. It is so cool. I think we were very relieved for the first one, and it was super, super special. But this has a different feel. And even coming in, even through the race, the final races of the Chase, I've been saying all along, I've had a good time with this. This has been fun. I was, one, so happy to be a part of three guys racing for the championship, then obviously going for five in a row. I have really soaked in this experience and enjoyed it and just so happy to come out on top.
Question: Do you feel like you've received enough credit for your success?
Johnson: You know, I feel like I have received a ton of respect for what we have done. I've watched our fan base grow leaps and bounds. People tell me they hate me, but they respect me, and that's always cool. A guy that had an "I hate 48" t shirt on when I was on the SPEED stage, but was giving me a thumbs up and said congratulations. In the moment, I think it's tough for fans to maybe look at what we have accomplished, because they want their guy to win and I understand that. But I know what they have done today is respected sports wide, not just in our little bubble we live in, but sports wide, and it's something I'm very proud of, and I feel great for what we have accomplished and I feel that we have been very well respected for what we have done. If this it takes it to the next level, then right on. But I don't need it to make me feel better about what we've done. I'm totally content based on our performance. I know my fan base is extremely proud right now and they are going nuts right now.
Question: You're two championships behind hall of famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Are their seven championships on your radar?
Johnson: From my side, I guess I haven't thought much about where we are in looking up at what Petty and Earnhardt have done. I mean, absolutely, I would love to tie them. I would love to surpass them. I don't know how realistic that is. I mean, I never thought, as you mentioned, that I would get to this point.
So we'll enjoy five for the off season and come back and start working on six next year. We are a hell of a lot closer now than we were before the day started; first one to have five, or I guess third in line, I heard earlier, so we'll keep working at it. But absolutely. I'm now looking at those marks that the greats have put out there and hopeful to get up there to them.
Question: Does this solidify your place as one of the great drivers in NASCAR history?
Johnson: I don't know if I can answer a question like that. I can't. The driver or a person should not be up there saying, I'm great. That's just not my deal. At least me; I'm not going to do it. But I'm very proud of what we've done, and five in a row, no one else has done it.
Question: How much did your experience play a role in this year's Chase for the Championship?
Johnson: Definitely confident in my abilities and who I am and how I fit into this sport, all of that rolls into one for sure. Experience is everything. It really, really is everything. It doesn't mean that somebody is not going to win there first, but for year one to year two, it's a different world. And all the way to year four and where we were coming into this championship battle, it helps out on from your notes in your setups you know your mind set, you know that today, I knew at some point there was a feeling that was going to show up and I was ready for it. It showed up and I'm like, okay, there it is, final race of the year, everything is on the line. Denny (Hamlin) I had not seen him before we walked across the stage and he said, "Oh my god, something hit me 30 minutes ago and I didn't feel anything until now." And I knew that was coming, and I'm not sure that carried over to the car or to the race, but the experience of being there before helped so, so much.
Question: Can you make it six in a row?
Johnson: I don't know if it's in reach. I know we are going to have chances to win championships, but you just don't know how the year is going to unfold. You just don't know what is going to take place. It is so tough to win championships, and it's easy to look at us having five in a row and say, naturally, just keep doing it.
Next year is a whole new year. There's no telling what the challenges will be, with what we are going to face, strengths of the other teams and where we are going to be at. We are closer. There's six and seven out there ahead of us, and we'll work as hard as we can to do it.