Jimmie Johnson mentors NASCAR’s next wave: ‘He leads by example’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – On the eve of Jimmie Johnson’s last full-time season, he is being hailed as one of NASCAR’s greatest.

Not just as a driver but as a person.

Beyond 83 victories and seven championships in Cup, Johnson also established himself as a highly accessible and supportive mentor whose wisdom is viewed with great regard by the next generation in NASCAR’s premier series.

Perhaps the best example is Corey LaJoie, whom Johnson vouched for to help get the 28-year-old in a Cup ride. Because of Johnson’s support, LaJoie could be among the candidates being considered by Hendrick Motorsports to fill the No. 48 next season.

“In this garage area, as we all know we’re around each other so often, so much, if you want, you can form a relationship and a friendship pretty quick,” Johnson said. “I just always have. I’ve always had people be open and available for me. I know how it’s shaped my career. I’ve just wanted to do the same.

“It’s just me.”

At Media Day for Sunday’s Daytona 500, several drivers in their 20s were asked for their best stories about Johnson, how he’s influenced them and what his impact and legacy will be in NASCAR.

Here are their responses:

Ryan Blaney: “I grew up watching Jimmie and I was in Late Models when he was winning five in a row. As a kid, how could you not be a fan of that guy and how humble he is? It has been a pleasure to race with him the last handful of years. It has been a lot of fun. I got chewed out by him last year (at Watkins Glen), which was great. I look back on that, and it is a fond memory of mine. I will never forget that. It is a good memory because we got over it the next week. You never see that side of Jimmie. It is unfortunate that I had to be the one to bring that side out in him.

“I remember standing at driver intros with my dad when I was a kid, and Jimmie was standing there, and now I am standing at driver intros with him. I am lucky enough to become friends with him over the years. It has actually made me pretty upset the last couple of years that people have been saying negative things about him. He has had a rough couple of years from what he is used to and people are saying he is washed up and things like that. That actually pisses me off. You see that a lot with great athletes as they get further on in their careers. People forget the great things they have done and just focus on the here and now. It is going to be weird not racing with Jimmie because I love racing with him. I don’t think people realize how good he really is until he isn’t around it anymore. You will look back and be like, ‘Man, we were experiencing a legend.’ I don’t think people give him enough credit and that is unfortunate.”

Alex Bowman: “In 2014, when I was driving my first year in Cup for a low-budget team, he was like the first guy to come up to me and be like, ‘You’re doing a really good job with that car.’ I think we had just run Vegas, and he was like, ‘Man, that thing looked terrible, but you’re doing a really good job’. So, he was the first to come up and say that. I thought that was really cool because I didn’t know him at all before that. But just really being able to be around him, see the type of person that he is and just try to be a sponge when he’s around. He’s more successful than anyone that is racing right now and he’s also the most humble guy in the garage. He’s just a great human being and the way he carries himself has been really cool to learn from.”

William Byron: “He’s been a huge mentor for me, kind of given me a lot of support. We’ve just kind of grown the off-track relationship, being at the karting track, working with him on a personal level with fitness, understanding how my body works and things like that. He’s been a huge mentor in those areas. I grew up being a big Jimmie Johnson fan, and that feels cool. I think just the mentor side he has for us, what he brings to the table in that area is going to be missed.”

Matt DiBenedetto: “He’s always been a good level-headed guy to go to and talk with and even just talking on basic, personal things just as a human being has always been good to get to know him. He’s always given really neat reinforcement of ‘Keep grinding.’ He’s understood my path to get here and how hard I’ve worked and for a seven-time champion to have always been so encouraging throughout my career has really meant a lot more than he’ll know.”

Austin Dillon: “When I was in Xfinity and running for a championship in the first year, I reached out to him. I was running like second or third while running for that championship and just wanted his advice as a Chevy driver.

“And he came back with everything he could give me as far as wisdom in racing for a championship. How he would race for a championship. He started texting me after each race and was coming back to me with something even through Homestead and practices. It was cool. Then in the second year in Xfinity when we won the championship, we were doing similar things. But this time he was actually asking me similar questions on what the track would do.

“Hearing that from a guy that won five championships at that time, I was just kind of mind blown that he was able to talk to someone that is in a lesser series and be able to learn from them. He was going to take anything he could take and apply it to his game. That is something that I will always remember from Jimmie, is the relentless effort and not afraid to get better in any way.”

Chase Elliott: “He won five (championships) in a row. Like the seven thing is great, that’s amazing. But five in a row? Y’all sit back and think about that. That’s about as many times as I’ve won a race, which isn’t saying much. I think about all the great drivers who won one. That’s crazy. Probably won’t ever happen ever again, ever.

“I think he just exemplifies how you should go about your life really on and off the racetrack. I think he’s a great person. He has his off-the-track life figured out. He treats people the way they deserve to be treated. He’s just a class guy. I think he leads by example. I’ve enjoyed having somebody like that to look up to.

“I don’t understand why (Johnson doesn’t get as much credit for his results). I don’t know if it’s just an era thing. On the same token, he was around in the mid-2000s when some other guys were, too, that I feel like get a lot of that recognition and names that you know. I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve often wondered that. I’ve never really understood.

“I do think it will be one of those things that once he’s gone, people are going to be like, ‘Whoa!’ Maybe it’s just because he’s such a nice guy that he hasn’t changed at all. He’s had that same even keel that he had when he came in in 2000 or 2001. Never had the big personality, I guess, to go along with all the success, which I think is great. I think that’s how it should be or how you should be.”

Tyler Reddick: “Any time I’ve ever needed anything or had questions, he’s always been real quick to reply. If I ever had any questions — racing related, bikes, whatever — he’s right there to help, give advice. Just speaks to who Jimmie is. Everyone here for the most part knows what I’m talking about. He’s a standup guy. If you need help with something, he’s going to help you. That’s really cool.”

Bubba Wallace: “Last (November) at Texas, we were under caution. We were having a terrible race. I looked up on the pylon, and he was like fifth and I’m like hell yeah. I just happened to look over and he’s right next to me so I pulled (up) and I get close to him and I gave him a thumbs up and he comes back and revs it up at me. So, he was pumped. I’m a huge fan of Jimmie. Everybody in the field wants to compete against him, but all of us are pulling for him. I know I am; to get back into Victory Lane and go out and win the championship. That would be cool.

“When they say, ‘seven-time champion,’ they say ‘Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.’ And then they’re like, ‘Oh, and Jimmie Johnson.’ It’s like ‘What? He’s right there with them.’ I guess that’s just Jimmie’s persona. He’s cool, calm, and collected and under the radar. Jimmie is an all-around great guy. He knows how to get it done on the race track.”

Photos: Getty Images

Results, point standings after Brickyard 400

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Kevin Harvick beat Matt Kenseth in overtime to win Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It is Harvick’s third Brickyard 400 win and his second in a row.

The top five was completed by Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Cole Custer.

Harvick led three times for 68 of the race’s 161 laps.

Click here for the race results

Check back for the point standings.

Kevin Harvick powers to Brickyard 400 win in overtime

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Kevin Harvick pulled away on an overtime restart to win his second consecutive Brickyard 400 and third in his career Sunday night at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Harvick inherited the lead after Denny Hamlin blew a tire and crashed while leading with less than 10 laps left.

Matt Kenseth finished second and was followed by Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and rookie Cole Custer, who gave Harvick the push on the restart.

MORE: Race results 

Hamlin appeared headed for his first Brickyard 400 win until he brought out the caution on Lap 155. A right front tire went down in Turn 1 as he led.  He was the second Joe Gibbs Racing driver to crash after a tire went down. Erik Jones was eliminated earlier in the race

“Just didn’t work out for us today,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “I had a fast car obviously. Was stretching it out there, but wasn’t pushing the left front (tire) at all. It’s kind of like roulette. Whether you get one that’s going to stay together or not and mine didn’t and you saw the end result.”

Harvick’s win gave Stewart-Haas Racing a sweep of the NASCAR portion of this historic weekend at Indy that saw the series share the facility with the NTT IndyCar Series. SHR’s Chase Briscoe won Saturday’s Xfinity race on the road course.

Earlier in the race, Zach Price, rear tire changer for Ryan Blaney‘s team, was transported to a local hospital after he was struck by Brennan Poole‘s car on pit road. The incident happened as several cars crashed on pit road during the competition caution on Lap 14. Price gave a thumbs up while on a stretcher before he was loaded into an ambulance. He was transported to a local hospital. Those in the crash included Corey LaJoie, Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Justin Allgaier, who was driving in place of Jimmie Johnson because Johnson has contracted COVID-19.

The race started about an hour late because of lightning within an 8-mile radius of the speedway.

STAGE 1 WINNER: William Byron

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

NOTABLE: Sunday marked the first time since 1958 that Daytona did not host a Cup race on or near July 4.

NEXT RACE: The series races at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 12 at Kentucky Speedway.

Denny Hamlin crashes from lead near end of Brickyard 400

Denny Hamlin
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Denny Hamlin wrecked while leading on Lap 154 of 160 of Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

Hamlin hit the Turn 1 wall after his right front tire went down. Hamlin was leading Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth at the time.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had led previous 19 laps before the incident. Hamlin, who was seeking his first Brickyard 400 victory, leads the series with four wins this year.

It is his first DNF of the season.

“We just didn’t do what we needed to do,” Hamlin told NBC. “Just didn’t work out for us today. I had a fast car obviously. Was stretching it out there, but wasn’t pushing the right front (tire) at all. It’s kind of like roulette. Whether you get one that’s going to stay together or not and mine didn’t and you saw the end result. … We’ve been so good here lately … I feel like I’m doing all I can.”

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Erik Jones eliminated after hard crash in Brickyard 400

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Erik Jones was eliminated from Sunday’s Brickyard 400 after a hard single-car crash on Lap 75.

Jones was running in 10th when his No. 20 Toyota hit the outside wall in Turn 3. Jones was able to exit his car.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver entered the race 16th in the point standings, which is the last spot on the playoff grid.

Jones stayed out of the pits during a late caution in Stage 1 in order to earn stage points. He managed to finish second in the stage, earning nine points.

“I guess we had a right front (tire) go down,” Jones told NBC. “I felt it pop and I was kind of along for the ride. It was a pretty hard hit. But it’s a shame. … It’s kind of the story of our season. We’ve just had a rough year. Things just not going out way.”