Sunday will mark a significant milestone for Jimmie Johnson, at a place that has meant a lot to him during his NASCAR career.
Johnson will make his final start at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has been one of his most successful tracks, with five wins, 14 top five and 16 top-10 finishes in 28 Cup starts there.
The race track will also honor Johnson before the race by naming a section of its grandstand after him. He joins seven-time champions Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty in having grandstands at the track name after them.
“It means a ton to me,” Johnson said in a media teleconference Friday. “To have my name be on the grandstands there at the speedway, alongside all the other greats, is just super meaningful to me.
“My final full-time year in Cup is a little different than I imagined; our whole world is different than we imagined with Covid. I know there were other plans to kind of go with the events in Atlanta this weekend that won’t be seen through, but it’s still amazing to have my name on the grandstands there. I’ve seen a few pictures and I can’t wait to see it in person on Sunday.”
Johnson will also give the command for drivers to start engines.
While Johnson will be honored before Sunday’s race, the event will be celebrated without fans, who are not allowed inside the track due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m excited to have the moment with the grandstands being named after me; granted, there’s no fans there to celebrate it with,” he said.
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro enters Sunday’s race mired in the longest winless streak of his career: 104 races over three years. His last win was at Dover International Speedway on June 4, 2017.
Atlanta, where Johnson last won in the second race of the 2016 season, will mark the second racetrack the seven-time Cup champion will see for the final time thus far this season. The other one up to now was Fontana, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting hiatus from racing.
“It’ll be interesting to see how I feel being at the track this weekend, but knowing we have so many races left and we’ll be coming back to these tracks, it hasn’t been on my mind,” Johnson said. “Fontana was out of this world – what an emotional and special moment that was to go back to my home track for the final time, have fans in the stands and the full experience.
“I guess I’ve been riding that high. I’m just happy to be back at the track. My head space has been back to some normalcy and back to racing.”