NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson to make his final run on the Magic Mile

Jimmie we’re glad we knew ye!

Jimmie Johnson will compete in his final NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Sunday’s running of the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

The seven-time Cup Series champion announced on Nov. 20, 2019, that he would hand the keys to the Hendrick Motor Sports No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to another driver after the 2020 season.

The destinations on the tour had arranged dedications to honor Johnson’s remarkable career. But those plans were red-flagged on March 16 when, after four Cup Series events, NASCAR shut down in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

NASCAR resumed racing at empty Darlington Raceway on May 17, but the planned tributes never materialized in the subsequent 15 races. Johnson was more understanding than disappointed and content with having a race car to drive.

“Times are crazy and we all have 2020 stories to tell,” said Johnson. “The start of the season before the shutdown it was really rewarding especially going to my hometown track (Auto Club Speedway) in California and they really took care of me and my family there.

“That was a very special weekend and I’m thankful that I had it and I really hope that things improve and we can get back to normalcy again. But 2020 is what it is and I’m just going to keep marching on.”

Johnson has had to adapt to the new normal of a congested travel schedules, hurried trips from one track to the next, reduced race preparations and competing without the benefit of practice runs or pole position time trials.

“In motor sports you always have to adapt and this year has been the most challenging year for anybody in motor sports,” said Johnson.

The cruelest coronavirus trick perpetrated on Johnson came two days before the running of the Brickyard 400 on July 5 at Indianapolis Speedway. Johnson was a four-time winner of the Brickyard 400 and its only back-to-back champion.

Johnson’s COVID test prior to the race came back positive, forcing him to withdraw from the Brickyard, ending his prolific streak of 663 consecutive starts.

As the father of two young daughters, Johnson’s immediate concern was for the safety of his family. Johnson’s follow-up tests all came back negative, leaving him feeling uncertain if the initial result was a false positive.

“There is no way to know for sure if it was,” said Johnson. “There is a percentage of false positives that can happen and false negatives that can happen and then you get into antibody testing that adds another layer to it.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever know. The first day was pretty worrisome but then we started to manage it much better.”

Johnson has competed in every Chase orl NASCAR playoff event since its inception in 2004 before missing the cut in 2019. That fueled his desire for another run because he did not want to go quietly into the racing night.

Johnson is currently perched on the playoff bubble at 18th place in the Cup Series rankings with two top five finishes and six in the top 10. A win at New Hampshire would secure a spot in the playoffs, leaving him free to aggressively accumulate stage and driver points the rest of the way.

Johnson has a stellar record on the Magic Mile with three wins, 10 top five finishes and 22 in the top ten with an average finish of 11.1. But he has finished out of the top 10 in his last three races.

“New Hampshire has been tricky for us,” said Johnson. “We haven’t been as competitive there as we would like in the last five years or so.

“But it is track where strategy can work in your favor and we show up every week hoping we can pull it off if we give 100 percent.”

Johnson credits career continuity for making him the greatest driver of his generation. He won seven Cup Series titles including five straight from 2006 to 2010. He has made 669 starts with 83 wins, 229 top five finishes with 370 in the top 10 and 36 poles.

Johnson signed on with Hendrick Motor Sports in 2000 and never left. Rick Hendrick assigned Chad Knaus to be Johnson’s crew chief his rookie year in 2002 and they combined for 81 wins through the 2017 season. Johnson has been driving Chevrolets the whole time.

“When you look at the success we had … continuity played a big role in it,” said Johnson. “For me, I’m that kind of guy, that’s my style and I’m a very loyal friend and I’m grateful my professional career mirrored my values.”

Racing 301’s on the Magic Mile hasn’t been Johnson’s only athletic endeavor in the region. Johnson made a fine showing for himself on April 15, 2019, in the Hopkinton to Boston 26.2. Tests of physical endurance have been a staple in Johnson’s professional and recreational sporting life and at age 43, he put it to a test in the 123rd running of the BAA Boston Marathon.

Johnson was on the starting line in Hopkinton just 36 hours after competing in a Cup Series race at Richmond Speedway. Johnson completed the run with a remarkable time of 3:09.7.

“I had a ton of support and personally I felt so fulfilled and it was one of the most rewarding experiences,” said Johnson. “The journey to get ready for 26.2 and to try to race it was a lofty goal and to have it all come together in a very solid race.

“It was interesting to look at our social media analytics and the Boston Marathon exceeded our seven championships so it was a massive moment in a lot of ways.”

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