Jimmie Johnson has nothing to prove in bid for record-breaking eighth Sprint Cup title
Go ahead and say it. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t care.
You know. The V Word. Vanilla. Bring it, baby.
“I don’t give a [bleep] anymore,” Johnson said earlier this week, sitting pretty outside his motorcoach at Daytona International Speedway.
Johnson always has been kind of an acquired taste for a noticeable number of NASCAR fans. Maybe it’s because he’s from California. Or maybe there’s an envious twist — he married a former model and has two beautiful daughters. Maybe it has something to do with those seven NASCAR Cup season titles, won through proficient racing ability without the nasty bumper-cars disposition of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Johnson’s seven championships tie him for most ever among two other NASCAR titans, Earnhardt and Richard Petty. Johnson fits in comfortably among those iconic names these days, happily ignoring all that noise outside his shiny blue No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy as the roar builds for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
What does he care?
He is very much in his Happy Place. Check out his new digs in Aspen, where he will reside until May before packing up and taking the family back to their home in Charlotte. It’s a NASCAR version of bi-coastal living.
Better yet, he lives with the feel-good buzz of a champion with nothing to prove.
“For me it’s house money,” he said. “… And trying to switch it from focusing on success to significance.”
That ups the ante in a good way. From becoming a better representative in the sport to becoming a better teammate, citing his working relationship with Chase Elliott’s No. 24 team after Johnson secured a spot moving into the third round of the Chase by winning in Charlotte in October.
He closed the deal the next month in Homestead, grinding it out despite not having the best car among the contenders to snatch his seventh title.
Good times ensued. The “Vanilla People” probably took it hard when they learned that Johnson was able to score legendary rapper Snoop Dogg to play in the after-party he hosted following the NASCAR Championship Awards banquet in Las Vegas.
Big rewards for shifting his focus and steering away from a me-centric approach.
“It’s been an interesting process,” he said. “It’s helped me better grasp the process of house money. I went about it in such a structured hyper-focused way for the longest time that’s the way I was brought up and entered the sport. And as I’ve grown and helped others, I’ve been able to experience amazing things. And I just want to keep going in the same direction.”
His journey of personal discovery has led him to Aspen. As an active outdoors couple before they had children, Jimmie and Chandra loved the Colorado landscape and all its offerings.
They scaled back their travel when daughters came into their lives. But with Genevieve, 6, and Lydia, 3, leaving their toddler phase, the Johnsons have once again embraced their pack-and-play lifestyle.
“I love it there,” Johnson said, pulling out his cellphone to show pictures of him and “Channy” using adjustable “skinny” skis that allow them to cross-country ski up a mountain and then ski back down.
Johnson loves chasing speed. He does the stuff in Colorado for fun. His day job brings other demands and, as noted, he has house money in his pocket.
“He’s gonna win eight,” said Larry McReynolds, a former championship crew chief and now a NASCAR analyst on FOX.
“And if they can win eight, I will never say the word ‘never’ because the word is too powerful, but when I look at the career span of drivers today getting shorter and competition where it’s at, I don’t know if eight will ever be accomplished again.”
The thought is appetizing to Johnson. Think of it as Vanilla Swirl, a flavor with a little more of an uptick.
“I’ve always taken my job seriously and I needed to because it hasn’t been natural for me,” he said. “I’ve always had to work really hard to hone in on my skills. I have no reason to be hyper-worried any more.
“Of course I’m going to compete and that’s never going to change but I’m having fun.”
House money it is for Mr. Seven-Time, working on eight.
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