CONCORD, N.C. – For Jimmie Johnson, the decision to make 2020 his final full-time NASCAR Cup Series season was the result of a lot of reflection and discussions with his friends and family.
But it ultimately came down to a gut feeling.
“It was such a profound moment that I really take it back to the moment in time where I knew I wanted to buy a ring for her,” he said, looking toward his wife Chani. “It was just that strong in my stomach. It was like, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do.’”
So, Johnson determined that his 19th full-time season will be his last. And after talking it through with his wife, the first call he made was to Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
“Every time one of these drivers calls me and wants to come to my house, I know that’s not a good situation,” Hendrick laughed.
The driver joked that the owner didn’t react the first three times he told him – perhaps because he was hoping he would change his mind. But Hendrick said he was at peace with the decision.
“Whatever he wanted, I wanted for him,” he said. “I’m happy for him because I want to see what the next chapter is. He set the foundation and a benchmark for us at this company that we’ll always strive to beat.”
Thursday’s press conference on the Hendrick Motorsports campus allowed Johnson to share his thought process on his decision, which he said he feels “very, very good about.”
It wasn’t lost on the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion that he had the ability to make the choice on his own time, a privilege he noted not every athlete receives.
“I feel very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity,” he said. “You roll that all up, it just feels right.”
But the driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE made it clear he’s not done yet. It’s no coincidence that when he posted the video announcing his decision on Twitter, he began the caption with #Chasing8.
“Next year is not a mail-it-in year, it is a year we are going to win races and compete for a championship,” he said. “If you’re in the Championship 4 at Phoenix, you’ve got a shot. That is absolutely the goal for next year. I have the fire and our team is getting stronger.”
Hendrick said the organization will give Johnson its “absolute best” next season to help him close out his career “on top.” Sitting beside Johnson on stage, he relayed just how much he has meant to him and the entire team.
“He’s just an unbelievable person and an unbelievable friend,” the owner said. “He’s not just a driver to me, he’s family.”
As the press conference came to a close, Hendrick addressed Johnson directly.
“I don’t know how to thank you, buddy, for being the champion and the leader and friend and everything you’ve meant to this company,” he said. “(You’ve) given us all these championships and done some unbelievable things. We’ll always be grateful and we’ll always be appreciative. And I’ve got your number.”
That brought a smile from the driver, as his emotions crept onto his face.
“I’m so thankful to literally have chased the dream since I was a little kid,” Johnson said. “It’s been so much fun. We still have a great year ahead of us to have a lot more fun.”