Most activities usually get easier with repetition.
That doesn’t exclude Jimmie Johnson writing and then delivering a championship acceptance speech for the seventh time.
Well, Friday night’s speech in Las Vegas was actually the sixth one Johnson has written.
“One year, I think it might have been my first (championship) year, I had a speech writer write it and they used the word ‘awful.’ ‘I want to thank an awful lot of people,'” Johnson recalled after the Sprint Cup Awards banquet.
“I was so nervous and it wasn’t in my voice, but I proceeded to thank all the ‘awful people in the room.’ I didn’t realize I even said it until the crowd erupted with laughter, I’m like ‘what did I just say?’
“From that point on I’ve done it myself.”
Two weeks after becoming the third driver to win a seventh Sprint Cup title, Johnson once again stood on a stage with owner Rick Hendrick, crew chief Chad Knaus to thank those responsible for his record-tying achievement.
The thesis of his speech was that all seven of his titles – matching Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt – were done with one team, one crew chief, one manufacturer and one sponsor in 15 years.
“This one came together I feel pretty quick for me,” Johnson said afterward. “It was easy to get the emotions down. Clearly the one driver, sponsor, team, manufacturer, that whole component was the first thing I got down on paper and it kind of set the tone for the rest of the speech for me.”
Johnson capped off the roughly seven-minute speech by echoing how Earnhardt ended his seventh championship speech in 1994, when he tied Richard Petty.
“I might have won as many championships as Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, but I will never be the King or the Intimidator,” Johnson said in his speech. “I’m just a guy from California who alway wanted to race.”
Johnson watched Earnhardt’s speech as preparation for his 22 years later.
“I was left with the impression he was faced with the questions, not controversy, but just discussion about tying The King and who was better,” Johnson said. “Just in the tone and the way he spoke. He wanted to pay respect to Richard. As soon as I saw that quote, watched it for myself, I knew it was going into my speech and it was so fitting and so truthful.”
Two weeks after the biggest moment of his career, Johnson said he felt like the gravity of the accomplishment finally hit him while on stage.
“I felt like I got ran over by it on the stage there tonight. That was insane,” Johnson said. “A lot of moments, it just kept building.”
One of those moments included the surprise appearance by Michael Phelps, a 28-time Olympic medalist, who Johnson had presented with a male athlete of the year award just last week.
“I saw his name pop up on the teleprompter and it wasn’t like somebody was going to talk about him, he was going to be a speaker the way it was on the prompter,” Johnson said. “I saw that pop up and I said ‘You’ve go to be kidding me.’ Then he started walking out from there. That was a complete and total shock.”