It wasn’t planned, but the moment proved to be perfect for Jimmie Johnson.
Shortly after winning his seventh Sprint Cup championship, Tony Stewart, who had just completed his final Cup race, came on stage to congratulate Johnson.
But it was Johnson who surprised Stewart with a gift. He gave Stewart the helmet he wore to win the race and championship. Johnson’s helmet featured Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the back along with the number seven for the series titles they won.
“Giving Tony Stewart my helmet was something that came together pretty last-minute,’’ Johnson told NBC Sports. “He asked me a few weeks ago for a helmet and I pretty much traded them out and that was the only helmet I had left.
“Something dawned on me (race) morning. I saw a helmet in his hands that somebody gave to him, and I thought it would be pretty awesome if I could win the race and then hand him the helmet from victory lane. There he walked up. I shouted down to somebody who was by the car and handed it to me. The look on (Stewart’s) face was priceless.’’
Stewart, who has more than 200 helmets received about 25 from drivers in the season finale. His collection is wide-ranging.
“I’ve got a Paul Newman helmet from ’76 that is pretty cool,’’ Stewart said in September. “I’ve got two Dale Sr. helmets, two Richard Petty helmets, three Mark Martin helmets, two Rusty Wallace helmets, two Jeff Gordon helmets, two Darrell Waltrip helmets. I’ve got five Formula 1 driver helmets. The guy that pulled me out of the race car at Iowa (after Stewart broke his leg in 2013), I’ve the the safety helmet he wore.
“Chase (Elliott) and Ryan Blaney, we’re trading helmets this year. The hard part is I’ve asked for more helmets than I can trade. It’s cool that they’re willing to let me have a helmet for my collection.’’