Johnson focused on enjoying title No. 6
November 18, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Even before Jimmie Johnson could climb out of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship winning No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet on Sunday evening, the thousands of fans crowding the championship stage were chanting: "Se-ven! Se-ven! Se-ven!"
But the sport's newest six-time champ was all about celebrating the incredible six-time moment, not looking too far ahead for a record-tying seventh.
"It’s awesome to hear the cheers, this is extremely sweet and I’m going to slow things down here and enjoy it," Johnson said.
Anticipating the discussion will be raised about whether he could eclipse NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who both won seven titles, Johnson says, "That’s all out ahead of us. I don’t want to focus on that. I want to enjoy six."
Johnson scored his sixth championship in the last eight years with a ninth-place finish that resulted in a 19-point title victory over Matt Kenseth. Other than a close call on a restart with 74 laps remaining, it was business as usual for the calm, collected, well-vetted champ.
"This truly was the most calm and normal weekend I’ve had in a race car," Johnson said. "Maturity and being prepared as a team helped. The vibe, the energy we had going allowed us to go into the weekend as stress free as ever.
"But with 74 (laps) to go it got serious, I'm not gonna lie, but before that everything felt like a normal race."
As the final laps ticked off and the championship came into sight, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports crew watched the track nervously, craning their necks to look at Turn 4 to make sure their bright blue No. 48 was going to come around again.
Crew chief Chad Knaus -- who actually had to do a bit of crowd control on the starting grid to keep excited fans away from the car before the race -- sat on the pit box in the final laps with his legs crossed. He rolled his head around his shoulders as if to let off tension.
And then finally with one lap to go, several Lowe’s executives started snapping "selfies" in the pit box. Johnson's good friends, actress Angie Harmon and her husband, former NFL star Jason Sehorn, took video of the scene and raised their hands, cheering as Johnson drove by to take the checkered flag.
Only after Johnson drove by for his final lap did Knaus look down from his pit box perch at a crewman, slip the slightest smile and simply wink. Then, he pulled out his own cell phone and took video of his team celebrating with Johnson doing a smokey, ear-shattering burnout in the background.
After Johnson climbed out of his car in front of the stage, he greeted his wife Chandra, their daughter Genevieve and alternately took congratulatory back slaps and handshakes from championship runner-up Kenseth, Roger Penske and three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart.
After the confetti cannons blew and fireworks sounded, a gentleman dressed in flip flops and shorts wearing a huge grin and sporting unmistakable pride in his eyes excused himself as he politely picked his way through the sea of celebrators.
As soon as Gary Johnson's son saw him, the two embraced.
"I just told him I was so proud," Gary Johnson said, adding with a laugh, "Then I told him that I had planned to bring him a six-pack to celebrate his 'six-pack' but I drank it already watching the race. I had to watch from my camper in the infield because I was so nervous."
It was a moving moment for the elder Johnson, who introduced Jimmie and his two younger brothers to racing at an early age running off-road dirt bikes in the Southern California desert each weekend. He tells the story of using their motorcycles as bedside tables in their modest home in a blue-collar neighborhood outside San Diego. They worked hard and played hard. And raced hard.
"This is big," Gary Johnson said. Then he laughed acknowledging it sounded like such an understatement.
"I was just telling the Chevrolet people, this is a dream come true. He used to sit on the couch back in El Cajon and watch NASCAR on the TV and thought it would be so cool to meet Jeff Gordon or Mr. Hendrick or get their autograph. And now they're his teammates and all these championships ... it's a dream come true.
"It'll be hard to drive home tomorrow," said Gary Johnson, who not only watched Sunday's race from a camper in the Homestead-Miami Speedway infield but also says he can't stick around to celebrate because he has to get back to work Tuesday.
His son, meanwhile, plans to take care of that for him.
"We were going to have a fun dinner with my friends tonight regardless of the outcome," the six-time champion said. "I don't know how long that dinner's going to go, but sitting there with all my friends and throwing 'em back ... it might not be as big and flashy but it will mean a lot.
"I just want to enjoy the moment, soak it all in."