CONCORD, N.C. – When Jimmie Johnson took to social media to share the news that he was stepping down from full-time NASCAR competition last week, fans and the racing world reacted with their thoughts and well-wishes.
For many of the people closest to Johnson, the news was shared a little differently.
After discussions with his wife, Chandra, the driver sat down at the breakfast table to explain his decision to his two daughters, Lydia and Genevieve. However, it seemed the news didn’t faze the young girls one bit.
“Yesterday when we were having breakfast, I was showing the girls the video we pushed out on social media,” Johnson said. “Breakfast is a very important part of the day, a focal point for my kids. Lydia was midway through her pancakes when I started the video and could not be bothered by the video and wanted me to pass the butter.”
Before telling the world, Johnson had already shared the news with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick in a sit-down chat at Hendrick’s home.
“On a funny note, I did mention to him I think twice, maybe three times that 2020 was going to be my last year – he never reacted,” Johnson recalled. “And then the fourth time he said, ‘I guess you’re serious about this, aren’t you?’”
It was also important for Johnson to tell his No. 48 teammates the news himself. With some members a part of the No. 48 team throughout his entire career, he couldn’t help but feel the gravity of his decision when addressing the group.
“The process has been interesting; telling friends, telling my team yesterday,” the driver said. “To sit the team down, the people that have worked on the 48 from the beginning, that was probably one of the harder ones I think that I had.”
Johnson informed No. 48 team crew chief Cliff Daniels of the news over dinner, and the crew chief was there when the driver made the announcement to the rest of the team.
“To share that time with him was really special,” Daniels said. “And when all our guys and many folks from Hendrick Motorsports were there for him to give the news himself, I know he was a bit nervous and probably intimidated for sharing that heavy news. But ultimately to see how special it was to him meant a lot to me.”
All of the seven-time champion’s fellow Hendrick Motorsports drivers were also given a call as Johnson shared his decision. Although far from retirement himself, No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driver William Byron couldn’t help but be reminded of the true champion Johnson is when he heard the news.
“It was definitely a little shocking but I immediately kind of thought about what it was like for me to work with him as a teammate first and foremost and then really how he was my idol growing up and watching him win all of those races and then now being able to work with him is pretty cool,” Byron explained.
The initial reactions from those who received the news certainly varied, but most echoed the sentiments of Johnson’s former crew chief, Chad Knaus.
“I’d say my first reaction was obviously that of a little bit of sorrow, honestly,” the seven-time champion crew chief said, “because we’ve been together for so long and been through so much and seen so many things happen, family and friends and marriage and race wins and championships. I was kind of sad to think that after next year it won’t be any more of that in the relationship that we have so there was a little bit of sorrow.
“But honestly for Jimmie I was very happy because he’s accomplished so much and he deserves the opportunity to spend time with Lydia and Genevieve and Chandra and go and experience what it is to be a “normal family,” have weekends off and go fire up the grill, cook some dogs and whatever it is they want to do. So, from that standpoint, I was pleased.”
With Johnson’s decision now made fully public, the driver’s full focus is on making 2020 a fitting end to his illustrious career.
“I still have that fire and I am coming back next year,” he said. “Next year is a year we are going to win races and compete for a championship. I know I can give what I need to this team for another year. After that, I’m ready to have some time back on my side and just have a better balance in life.”