CONCORD, N.C. -- The No. 48 team is preparing for Jimmie Johnson’s final race as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, but the years of memories and wins won’t be ending anytime soon.
In the span of 19 seasons, Johnson established himself as one of the greatest Cup Series drivers of all time. He has seven titles, including five in a row, and 83 points-paying wins. Johnson already had won several championships when rear-tire changer Calvin Teague joined the crew.
“I knew as a rookie on his team 10 years ago that I was going into something that he was already established and already one of the greats of the sport,” Teague said. “The run that we have had since then and having the opportunity to work with him, I knew he was destined for great things even before joining. It's been a blessing.”
Hendrick Motorsports Production supervisor Ron Malec has been with Johnson since the beginning since he was in the Xfinity Series, which was then the Busch Series. Malec said Johnson’s and his talent was able to shine through once he got settled at Hendrick Motorsports.
“When we first started in the Cup Series, I saw how quickly he adapted to the cars and how competitive he was right out of the gate as a rookie,” Malec said. “When we ran in the Busch Series, we weren’t super good. When he got in the good equipment at Hendrick Motorsports it definitely showed, and his talent came out. I knew he was going to win a lot of races.”
Johnson won three races his first season in 2002 and another three the following year. Like most young Cup Series drivers, Johnson wasn’t expected to be winning every other week. However, his talent and success showed early on which inadvertently added some intensity to the No. 48 team.
“When we first started, the only expectation was to run in the top 10 or do as well as we could,” Malec said. “In our first year we were in contention for a championship. There was a lot of pressure to perform and we were a lot of young guys with not very much experience when it came down to those pressure situations. It brought us closer together as a group, so further down the road we performed better due to that pressure we learned early.
“You know, there is a saying that you have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win, and that is what we did early in our career, which made us more successful.”
Car chief Jesse Saunders joined the No. 48 team in 2014 as an underneath mechanic and took over the car chief role from Malec in 2018. He said even though he joined the crew after Johnson had won six championships, he always has been down to earth.
“Jimmie’s biggest impact on me has been managing that line of being successful and still being humble,” Saunders said. “A lot of teams you see will have success and they disband, or everybody goes and looks for bigger and better. Jimmie doesn’t have that. Jimmie credits the people around him in the same fashion that I credit the people around me. It really is a team aspect. Jimmie having that attitude has been a huge impact on my life.”
Teague echoed Saunders’ sentiments and added how Johnson is incredibly down to earth. He said that humility is why Johnson is recognized not only as successful, but humble and kind.
“You can have a conversation with him; he’s never too busy to have a word with you,” Teague said. “The friendship that we have built over the years and the good times that we have had have been great things that I have taken away.
“When he became a father, I was still a young kid and I hadn’t had kids yet, so to see how he prioritized his life, his wife and then his kids were things that I took and implemented in my life with my wife and kids. He has been a huge influence around me.”