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Jimmie Johnson reflects on some of the best stories of his career

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With seven championships and 83 victories in Cup, it’s pretty clear Jimmie Johnson loves to win.

But there’s something else Johnson loves to do: Tell stories and reflect on his racing career, particularly before he became one of NASCAR’s most legendary drivers.

Before leaving Thursday for Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Johnson spent time reminiscing and telling stories about his racing development on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Happy Hours with Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum. He also talked about competing in next month’s Boston Marathon.

Here are some excerpts of Johnson’s tales, related from the pool house/radio studio at Harvick’s house in Charlotte:

Home Sweet Hornaday

Early in the careers of Johnson and Harvick, both were short on cash. As a result, they crashed on the couch of NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. as they were working their way up the racing ladder.

“I never saw Kevin,” Johnson said of Harvick. “I saw his luggage. We seemed to be passing and racing in different places all the time.”

Added Harvick, “I think back to Hornaday’s house and that time, and (Johnson) had some unique gatherings at your house, as well. Hornaday always had a spot that everybody showed up to, but Jimmie’s house was always entertaining, as well.”

It almost was IndyCar and not NASCAR for Johnson

Long before NASCAR and stock car racing were even a possibility, Johnson began his racing career on two wheels, racing dirt bikes. His grandparents owned a motorcycle shop near San Diego.

“Really, my whole world, all my heroes, everybody I looked up to were on two wheels,” Johnson said. “We just loved racing. I’d go to many races, a lot of sprint car races, went to Riverside (now-defunct Riverside International Raceway) a couple times and hung on the fences in the esses and watched Richard Petty make a straight line out of it and throw a lot of dirt around the place.

“Then, in the early 1990s, I got a chance to race a buggy in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series. Through that and my dad’s relationship with B.F. Goodrich Tires, it got me a chance to race other types of off-road buggies in the desert and stadiums. That’s kind of the world I was in. Then Herb Fishel (GM motorsports manager) spotted me in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1991 or 1992 (at the age of 15 or 16) and they were looking to bring a second truck along, so I took a Polaroid (picture) with him.

“He went back to Detroit, threw it on the conference room table and said, ‘Let’s put this guy under contract, he’s going to develop our second stadium truck. That was my introduction into Chevrolet. And I thought IndyCar was going to be my route, but (Chevy) pulled out of IndyCar and said if I wanted a future in motorsports, NASCAR is where it’s at. And then, Hornaday’s couch, here I come.

“I was just trying to figure it all out. I’m still trying to figure it out, I guess. My whole view and world was just dirt-related. I didn’t think much of the asphalt side, especially stock-car racing. (IndyCar) seemed interesting, also the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix was right there in the area, so IndyCar was a bit of an idea, but I didn’t think it was going to work out.”

How stalking Jeff Gordon paid off

Johnson was racing in the Busch Series with Stan and Randy Herzog in 2000. Johnson had previously raced two seasons in off-road competition and then ASA Racing for the Herzogs, and Fishel had hoped they could groom him as well as build a Cup team themselves.

Unfortunately, the Herzogs said they couldn’t afford to go Cup racing and told Johnson he could seek out other deals.

“The Herzogs said if they couldn’t find a sponsor, they didn’t want to hold me back, and that maybe I should put word out that I’m available,” Johnson said. “Opportunities came along, but they all meant leaving Chevrolet. I was struggling with that and couldn’t do it.

“I needed to get some advice, so I totally stalked Jeff Gordon at the August 2000 Michigan race. He gave me some advice and said, ‘Man, you’re not going to believe this, but (Hendrick Motorsports) is looking to start a fourth team and the only name that has come up is yours. So we might be able to fix your problem altogether.’

“A month later, I had a signed contract with (Hendrick) to start in 2002 (he would race one more season in Busch for the Herzogs in 2001, with significant help from the Hendrick camp).”

How Johnson won his first championship – with a broken leg

At 8 years old, Johnson was seeking his first dirt bike championship. The season was growing late, and he took a jump but landed the wrong way.

“I went down, got tangled up with the bike, I destroyed my left knee, broke my tibia and fibula and in the end, was in a cast for nine months when it was all said and done,” Johnson recalled. “I was tied for (the lead in) points, and we rigged something up and welded something to the front of the bike, brought my leg up, and I rode the next two events, got the starting points and was able to win the championship.

“For me, I go back to school, I had to try so hard to accomplish what I needed to. I learned things differently and was a little slow in picking things up. But when I’ve been focused about accomplishing something or I’m passionate about it, I just go all-in. And that all-in is what’s helped me through my whole life.”

Oh, dear – uh, make that deer

Johnson recalled how he was in a group riding bikes in some off-time during one of the Pocono race weekends when a deer decided to crash the party – and almost crashed into Johnson and some of his fellow riders, as well.

“We’ve had a couple run-ins with deer, for sure,” Johnson said. “We had this mini-tornado come through and about crashed us all out. We had to hang on to trees.

“Then I did a big charity ride a few years back and we had some deer running next to us in the field, they made a turn and tried to come across the road and just about wiped us all out. It was like Talladega all over again.”

I’m holding out for a hero

Harvick explained how four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears was his hero growing up in Bakersfield, California.

Which led to Johnson talking about his own hero growing up: legendary off-road racer Ivan “The Iron Man” Stewart – and how he became the focus of an equally legendary book report for Johnson on his favorite driver.

“(Stewart) lived in our neighborhood and the one that really stalked Ivan to help me with my book report was my mom,” Johnson said. “Her school bus route went right by his house. I had started my book report about (Stewart). My mom knew she probably could help and popped in to see Linda, his wife, because we all knew each other from the off-road (racing) community.

“She came home with a life-size cutout of Ivan and all these pictures and stats and stuff. It was probably one of the only A’s I ever got in school.”

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Kevin Harvick calls for eliminating Clash, combining with All-Star Race

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Kevin Harvick believes Sunday’s crash-marred, rain-plagued Clash should be the last edition of the exhibition race that kicks off the Cup season at Daytona International Speedway.

During his weekly “Happy Hours” program Monday on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR Channel, the 2014 series champion laid out his vision how NASCAR could change the event.

“The Clash is one of those things that I think we could probably eliminate as we go forward and look at the new schedule,” the driver of the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing said. “The reason I say that is you’re trying to bring a lot of guys into the race.

“Originally when The Clash was brought about, it was about the pole winners and past winners of that particular race. They had a lot of guys that weren’t pole winners. And you have guys in the playoffs that were in the race.”

The inaugural Clash in 1979 featured a nine-driver field. As eligibility was expanded beyond pole winners and previous winner of the event, the field grew. There were 20 cars in the 2019 Clash, which peaked at 28 entries for the 2009 race (which was based on manufacturers).

Harvick suggested taking the two drivers with the most poles and giving them spots in the All-Star Race.

“To me, it would be good to combine with the All-Star Race,” he said. “Maybe you take two positions in the All-Star Race because you’re always on the edge of, ‘Is that enough cars? Is that not enough cars?’ But take The Clash away. Make it a points race. Or make it one of the weekends we take off the schedule.”

NASCAR is in the midst of a reported overhaul of the 2020 schedule.

Harvick also cited another advantage for dumping the Clash, which resulted in nearly two dozen cars being wrecked over practice and the race the past two days.

“As we talk about money and saving team owners money, Joe Gibbs wrecked five cars,” said Harvick, who crashed in practice and the race. “Three hundred thousand dollars a car adds up pretty quick.”

Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Danielle Trotta to host weekly show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

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SiriusXM announced Thursday a new weekly show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio hosted by JR Motorsports co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller and veteran NASCAR reporter Danielle Trotta.

The show, “Beyond Racing,” will air on Thursdays from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. ET and will debut on Feb. 7.

Trotta, who works for NBC Boston, will also be the regular host of the 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. ET block starting Feb. 4. She will be joined by co-host Larry McReynolds for “On-Track” on Monday – Wednesday and Friday.

“I couldn’t be more excited to work with Kelley,” said Trotta.  “She is someone I admire both as a person and an executive and it is an honor to call her a friend.  Her pedigree, experience and success in the sport make her an authoritative voice that NASCAR fans will enjoy hearing from, and will certainly learn from.”

Earnhardt Miller will offer her perspective as a front office executive.

“I have always enjoyed being on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio as a guest, and I’m very excited to now join the SiriusXM team as a host,” Earnhardt Miller said in a press release.  “I look forward to sharing my perspective on life as a team owner, talk about the Earnhardt family and legacy, and much more.  It’ll be a thrill to be able to talk with NASCAR fans across the country each week, and to work alongside a respected NASCAR reporter and friend like Danielle.”

Roush Fenway Racing won’t field Xfinity Series team in 2019

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Roush Fenway Racing will not field a team in the Xfinity Series for the first time in more than a quarter century, RFR President Steve Newmark confirmed Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Roush Fenway Racing first ran in the Xfinity Series in 1993 with Mark Martin, who won seven of 14 starts that season. The organization has won a record 138 Xfinity races. Roush Fenway Racing also has captured five Xfinity driver titles — Greg Biffle in 2002, Carl Edwards in 2007, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011-12 and Chris Buescher in 2015.

Newmark told Claire B. Lang on SiriusXM’s “Dialed In” that the focus is on strengthening the Cup program with Stenhouse and Ryan Newman, who joins the team to drive the No. 6 car this season.

“We’re going to focus exclusively on both of those Cup teams (in 2019) and realized we needed to allocate all of our resources there,” Newmark told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve fluctuated on the number of the teams in the Xfinity Series and a lot of that has been based on need. We’ve been four, we’ve been one, and I think (2019) we’ve decided on how we’re positioned we’ll step out of that for a year and see how that goes and just focus all the resources, all the engineering, all the wind tunnel on making sure that we perform to our expectations at the Cup level.”

Asked if sponsorship was a key factor in the decision, Newmark said: “There’s no doubt that sponsorship plays a factor in everything that we do. For better or worse that’s the way NASCAR is structured right now and sponsorship is the lifeblood for the teams. My hope is that at some point in time we continue to evolve to a model that moves a little bit way from that. But that was just a factor. We had a great run with Lilly Diabetes, five full seasons, we handled the Ford driver development program last year and the Xfinity Series is something that Jack (Roush) has always been passionate about.

“But when we look at where we are and what we needed to focus on, we just felt like that all the resources should be dedicated to Cup. We’ve always used Xfinity as a feeder series … for Cup, and when we look at our drivers, we’ve got those guys locked up and we think that they’re going to be with us for a number of years. We look at the engineering talent, we look at our crew chiefs, and we kind of felt like we had all the pieces of the puzzle in place and so really what we need to do is go out and execute at the Cup level and we’ll see where we end up in Xfinity in the future.”

Last season, Roush Fenway Racing fielded two full-time Xfinity teams: Ryan Reed in the No. 16 and Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Ty Majeski splitting time in the No. 60 car as Ford development drivers. Reed finished 11th in the points. 

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Looking ahead to Martinsville

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Today’s NASCAR America airs from 5-5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Carolyn Manno hosts and is joined by Parker Kligerman.

On today’s show:

  • With Martinsville on the way, we want to know what you’re thinking! Send us your questions about this weekend’s race with the hashtag #NASCARAmerica and we may answer yours on today’s show. Plus – Parker Kligerman gets in our NBCSN iRacing simulator to show us the keys to success at this notoriously difficult half-mile.
  • Pete Pistone of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio joins the show to share his outlook on the Round of 8. Which of the three races have fans the most excited? And which non-Playoff drivers could steal a victory from those in title contention?
  • And our friends at Rotoworld have early suggestions for NASCAR Fantasy Live at Martinsville. Find out who you’ll need on your team this weekend.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.