At age 40, John­son keeps go­ing strong

NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries AAA 400, Dover Int. Speed­way, NBC Sports Net­work, 2:30 p.m.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY DAN GEL­STON — As­so­ci­ated Press

dover, del.— Jim­mie John­son was still only a prospect in NASCAR’s de­vel­op­men­tal se­ries when he tried to work up the nerve to talk to Jeff Gor­don.

John­son wanted to in­tro­duce him­self to Gor­don and ask for ca­reer ad­vice, get­ting a chance to pick the brain of one of rac­ing’s greats.

What he didn’t know dur­ing that fate­ful Au­gust 2000 meet­ing was Gor­don al­ready knew him. Not only did Gor­don have ad­vice, he had a pitch — Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports was go­ing to ex­pand to four cars and John­son was their man.

“From that mo­ment on, my head spun around on my shoul­ders,” John­son said.

John­son’s been turn­ing heads on the track ever since he landed a ride with rac­ing pow­er­house Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports.

He started three times in 2001 and flashed early cham­pi­onship po­ten­tial with his first win just 10 races into 2002. With crew chief Chad Knaus call­ing the shots, John­son has driven the No. 48 Chevro­let to six cham­pi­onships and 74 ca­reer wins, in­clud­ing a track-record 10 at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

As NASCAR cham­pi­ons Tony Stewart and Gor­don ready for re­tire­ment, the 40-year-old John­son shows no signs of fol­low­ing their path and call­ing it quits any time soon. He’ll make his 500th ca­reer start Sun­day at Dover in the AAA 400 af­ter re­cently sign­ing a two-year ex­ten­sion with team owner Rick Hen­drick.

“The rac­ing gods have smiled on me and this team,” John­son said.

John­son has earned $150 mil­lion in purse money alone and sees no rea­son why to­day’s driv­ers will fol­low the lead of the ones from a gen­er­a­tion be­fore him and drive into their 50s.

“What I am look­ing for is that mo­ment. That mo­ment that you say, ‘All right, it’s time’. When that shows up, then I will step down.”

XFINITY SE­RIES: Re­gan Smith strength­ened his cham­pi­onship push with a vic­tory at Dover in the Hisense 200. Smith won for the sec­ond time this sea­son and moved within 36 points of se­ries leader Chris Buescher with five races left in the sea­son.

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