John­son won’t stop now

7-time champ feels like he’s ‘play­ing with house money’

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - On auto rac­ing

HOME­STEAD, Fla. — So, Mr. John­son, what are the chances of you win­ning an eighth Cup sea­son ti­tle?

Too soon? Hardly. It’s go­ing to be a per­ma­nent and per­sis­tent ques­tion for Jim­mie John­son af­ter he reached the seven-time NASCAR moun­tain­top, join­ing Richard Petty and Dale Earn­hardt on Sun­day.

John­son’s re­ac­tion? Bring it.

“I don’t know what the chances are, but let’s go,” he said at Homestead­Mi­ami Speedway. “I’m so ex­cited to put that in front of my­self, and the team has a hur­dle to get over and an ac­com­plish­ment to achieve.

“I had a lot of fun rac­ing for the sixth. This one and the calm na­ture and the way we went about busi­ness and got it done only gives me more con­fi­dence. I hon­estly feel like I’m play­ing with house money. I never as­pired to be fa­mous. I never as­pired to be a cham­pion. I just wanted to race.”

John­son added that his mind­set makes his No. 48 Chevy team “re­ally dan­ger­ous,” which means trou­bled waters for ev­ery­body else in the garage.

John­son is by no means a one-man show. He has cob­bled to­gether all the el­e­ments of suc­cess, start­ing with Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports, and his wing­man, crew chief Chad Knaus.

They are quite the pair, blood brothers chas­ing the same thing. Knaus has as many rings as John­son, bonded like Bo­gie and Ba­call, a stock-car bro­mance for the ages.

“I love him like a brother,” Knaus said. “He’s a fan­tas­tic in­di­vid­ual.

“Jim­mie has taught me more about life than life it­self has taught me. He’s taught me about fam­ily. He’s taught me about re­la­tion­ships. He’s taught me about be­ing a cham­pion. You know, when we started this thing, all I was was just a racer guy, and he was a cool Cal­i­for­nia kid, and we kind of grew up to­gether.”

That two-fer is very mo­ti­vated — and very hard to beat.

At 41, John­son gives ev­ery­one a blueprint for suc­cess, but there’s this lit­tle prob­lem: All the vari­ables in play make it im­pos­si­ble to repli­cate. There are the driver, crew chief and team dy­nam­ics. A driver with a fierce com­pet­i­tive drive. A driver who is also a fa­nat­i­cal work­out guy who tracks ev­ery­thing on the Strava app — runs, bi­cy­cling, swim­ming. A fine-tuned body with a fine-tuned car.

John­son plans things metic­u­lously while leav­ing a lit­tle room for su­per­sti­tion. He said he was go­ing to run seven miles the night be­fore Sun­day’s ti­tle race for a lit­tle ex­tra mojo.

Only he didn’t. Good­na­tured rib­bing en­sued from jour­nal­ists who in­cluded that in their race­setup sto­ries.

“l’ll buy you all a beer,” said John­son, who had a cel­e­bra­tory brew (and slice of pizza) him­self. “Let’s bring the beer in. I’m a fail­ure, sorry. I’ve got seven tro­phies now. I mean (bleep).”

There might be a lot of bleep­ing go­ing on in the years to come. Jim­mie John­son is hardly a fail­ure.

He is play­ing with house money. Ev­ery­one is in­vited to a take a seat at ta­ble, but you might want to keep your money in your pocket.

ROBERT LABERGE/GETTY

Jim­mie John­son rev­els in win­ning his sev­enth Cup sea­son ti­tle: “I never as­pired to be a cham­pion. I just wanted to race.”

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