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CONCORD, N.C. – “I’ve known Dale a long time,” Jimmie Johnson began.

On the verge of this weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the driver shared some words about his friend and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Earnhardt prepares to climb behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevy one final time.

The two knew each other many years before Earnhardt joined Hendrick Motorsports, but since that point, Johnson said that they have only grown closer.

“I really enjoy the time that I’ve had with him and look forward to what’s in the future,” Johnson said. “It will be sad to see the 88 without him in it, but there’s so much that I think that he should be proud of and so much that I’m thankful for his involvement in the sport and what he’s done for the sport.”

Hear more from Johnson on what Earnhardt has meant to him in the video above.