Jimmie Johnson feels ‘calmness’ about NASCAR leadership changes

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CONCORD, N.C. – Two major NASCAR leadership changes in two months might seem disconcerting on the surface, but they’ve brought a sense of peace to Jimmie Johnson.

“I actually have some calmness that comes with it, to be honest with you,” the seven-time Cup champion said Thursday morning during a media event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced the promotion of chief operating officer Steve Phelps to president Thursday. Phelps replaced Brent Dewar, who stepped down after serving in the role since July 2017.

Johnson said he was called Wednesday night by International Speedway Corp. president Lesa France Kennedy about the change, which didn’t come as a shock.

“I think Brent Dewar has done an amazing job as well, but it didn’t surprise me,” Johnson said. “I thought, ‘Man, that’s a great change since Brent’s leaving.’ ”

Phelps will report to acting NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France, who was moved into those interim roles when his nephew, Brian, took a leave of absence in August after a DWI arrest.

Asked whether he was unsettled by NASCAR’s executive management being in flux, Johnson said, “I haven’t had it change my perspective. We’ve been in flux, and I don’t think it’s added any more to it. It hasn’t added any more to it, and I think Steve’s going to be a great leader.”

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has become friendly with Jim France (whose daughter was a neighbor of Johnson’s; her husband got Johnson into road cycling) and Phelps, who joined NASCAR in 2005 the year before Johnson’s first title.

“Yeah, I’ve been very close to Steve over the years, and even Brent Dewar and that whole staff,” Johnson said. “I think Steve is a really strong guy and can take that role. I think he’s seen the sport and been a part of it for so many years. I like his approach. I like his style. He’s buttoned up. Professional. I just think he’s a great replacement for that role.”