CONCORD, N.C. -- Rick Hendrick gave a touching video message to Jimmie Johnson, who will race for the final time as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
The Hendrick Motorsports owner praised Johnson not just for his talent but for his actions off the track.
“You do it with class, which I think is what has impressed everybody as much as the championships,” Hendrick said in the video. “You have no enemies. You are super nice to everybody. You have been such a great ambassador for NASCAR.”
Johnson is one of three drivers to have a whopping seven Cup Series titles, along with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. He is the only driver in Cup history to have won more than three championships is a row and currently is sixth on the all-time wins list with 83.
However, Hendrick said it was Johnson’s humility and nudges from son Ricky Hendrick and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon that prompted him to take a chance on Johnson nearly 20 years ago.
“From the beginning, my son Ricky said, ‘Well, you better hire this guy because he is going to be a superstar,’” Hendrick recalled.
“When Jeff raced against you at Michigan and saw how hard you drove the car and how much talent you had, it was a no brainer..”
Johnson’s storybook Cup Series career began when he drove three races for Hendrick Motorsports in 2001 and a full schedule in 2002. Now the 45-year-old champion will hit the track one last time as a full-time driver this Sunday.
“It is going to be a sad moment to see you pull in the pits and I am going to be emotional,” Hendrick said. ”But I know you want to do other things and I am excited about your next chapter in your life.”
Watch the full video message from Hendrick above, and tune in to see Johnson in action for the final time at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.