Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – FONTANA, CA – Jimmie Johnson was emphatic during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Friday at Auto Club Speedway.
The desire to race still burns white-hot in the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“The desire to keep racing is absolutely there,” Johnson said. “Races, championships, and being a part of this great sport of ours–I’m going to be around for a while. I’m excited about that.”
Earlier in the week, long-time primary sponsor Lowe’s announced the company would not return to the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this season. Though Johnson acknowledged the importance of the home improvement company’s backing to his career, he also views the transition as an opportunity to associate his brand with other companies.
“First of all, what a run to have an 18-year relationship with such an amazing company,” Johnson said of his association with Lowe’s, which signed on for his first full season in 2002. “The friendships, the relationships, the way we’ve been able to deliver to their marketing efforts, the history we’ve made in our own sport, the chance I had to even drive a Cup car because of them…
“There are so many levels to it that I am very, very thankful for and proud of. Of course, I wish we could finish it out together, but that’s not the circumstance. But then, to look forward, I’m very optimistic about the future and myself and our race team to have an opportunity we haven’t had before to go out and shop our deal and see what’s out there and what we can do from a branding standpoint for a new company.
“Now that the announcement is out, we can get to work on that and see what the future holds for our team.”
From Johnson’s standpoint, there’s no ambiguity about his future as a racer. He laughed off speculation about “early retirement” after the 2018 season. Currently, Johnson is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most titles at NASCAR’s highest level.
Johnson wants to break that tie.
“I have more to do, and I enjoy the process and Hendrick is home and retirement hasn’t been on my mind,” said Johnson, who needs 10 more victories to catch former teammate Jeff Gordon for third on the all-time list. “I want to win. I want to win an eighth championship…
“There are just a lot of different ways I could look at it and say that it’s the absolute wrong time. But I guess, at the end of the day, it’s really my desire to compete and to compete at a high level. I’m not done yet.”
COMICS ARE SERIOUS BUSINESS TO RYAN BLANEY
NASCAR drivers who stayed out West during the #NASCARGoesWest swing found a variety of ways to spend their time between races.
Brad Keselowski went off the grid to climb mountains and marvel at the majesty of California’s giant sequoias. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, did something altogether different.
A Star Wars and adventure fiction enthusiast as well as a comic book collector, Blaney visited the offices of D.C. Comics in Burbank, Calif., where he got a rare treat.
“I got to go in their archives and see some Superman No. 1’s, No. 2’s, things like that,” Blaney told the NASCAR Wire Service during an announcement of NASCAR’s expanded partnership with Twitter at the sanctioning body’s offices in Century City. “That was so cool to me. Those archives—there are three people that have keys to that thing.
“It was super cool. And then to let us go in and look at it first-hand. Every single comic they’ve ever had is in this archive. They had a Richard Petty comic in there—it was pretty old. That was super cool to see.”
AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY BITES DANIEL SUÁREZ
Daniel Suárez ran afoul of the primary hazard at Auto Club Speedway and, as a consequence, will start Sunday’s Auto Club 400 from the rear of the field in a backup No. 19 Toyota.
During Friday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at the two-mile track, Suárez was in the middle of a mock qualifying run when he hit one of the slick seams that separates the lanes of well-worn asphalt and slid into the outside wall.
With his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry damaged beyond repair, Suárez was forced to the backup car for the rest of the weekend. Current NASCAR rules require the car to drop to the rear for the start of the race regardless of where Suárez qualifies in the backup.
“I just got loose,” Suárez said. “I was loose as soon as I hit the seam. I couldn’t handle the seam. I thought I was fine… but as soon as I hit the seam I wasn’t anymore.”