Jimmie Johnson’s 15th season in NASCAR’s premier series also has been among the most trying for the six-time series champion – and not just because he and his teammates have struggled.
As Johnson has moved into a larger leadership role in the absence of Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports also has faced some significant headwinds. Its alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing, which is leaving Chevrolet for Ford next season, is changing, and Hendrick recently has dealt with the uncertainty of Dale Earnhardt Jr. being sidelined by a concussion.
Meanwhile, none of the team’s four cars has posted a victory since Johnson won at Auto Club Speedway in March.
“From an organization standpoint, I’d definitely say since I’ve been at Hendrick, this is the toughest year and the most we’ve had to weather,” Johnson said on the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “We’re definitely trying to close the gap, and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to just be a stronger, more efficient company.”
Johnson said on the podcast that this season reminds him of a disappointing 2005, which nearly ended his partnership with longtime crew chief Chad Knaus.
“We’re dealing with our frustrations much better,” said Johnson, who also noted Chevrolet has the oldest body among Cup manufacturers. “It’s having a little more experience. The way the frustration builds, it’s not personal. This time, I’m in a better place. Not that it’s easier.”
The dynamics also have changed in his relationship to NASCAR. As a member of the Sprint Cup Drivers Council, Johnson said he’s become more immersed in understanding the business side of the sport in conversations with team owners.
“I enjoy being on the council; I’ve built better relationships with the other drivers and learned a lot,” he said. “I have a much more global sense of what everyone is dealing with. There isn’t a silver bullet to fix a variety of issues, but I see a lot of people who care, and a lot of hard work going into trying to make it right.
“I wish this stuff existed 10 or 15 years ago, because I think drivers would have avoided shooting the sport in the foot or maybe reacting as they did at times.”
While staying busy at the track, Johnson also discussed his active life outside of racing. His charitable foundation recently crossed the $8 million mark in fundraising, and he spent much of the summer in Aspen, Colorado, at a second home with his wife, Chandra, and young daughters Genevieve and Lydia.
“We ride bikes everywhere,” he said. “We’re together and we’re active. The TVs aren’t on. The iPads aren’t out. We play board games. It’s a good flashback to the way we grew up and how comfortable to let our kids be outside. Charlotte’s a wonderful city, but we live near some popular roads, and we don’t let the kids roam around on a hot bike like we do in Colorado.”
Johnson also discussed what his future might look like after Sprint Cup. He would be open to continue to race in NASCAR but also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in the Ironman Triathlon.
“I love racing,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing else I want to do. If I could have a part-time schedule, maybe a Mark Martin-type schedule, 100 percent. But you want to have a shot to win or a shot to do something impactful.”
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