Johnson Honored in Las Vegas

Jimmie Johnson

“When you do something only those two men have done is crazy and wild and humbling." (Photo: Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS - This championship, Jimmie Johnson admits, was different. It wasn’t just because his previous title came in 2010, all but a drought for him. It wasn’t just because he’s older, wiser and more mature. What was different is his family.

He has two daughters now and his oldest, 3-year-old Genevieve even escorted Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, on the stage at the beginning of Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards at the Wynn Las Vegas. Parenthood gives Johnson a new perspective.

Johnson confessed shortly after receiving a sixth championship ring, a champaign toast and numerous accolades, that the experience “is soaking in far more than any other experience I’ve had and I can’t quite identity why. I think some of it is to being a parent now and changing a lot now in the last three or four years.’’

He said one moment that stood out was the end when Sara Bareilles performed a powerful version of her song “Brave.’’

“I had goosebumps head to toe,’’ Johnson said.

It was in contrast to earlier in the evening when host Jay Mohr’s rapid-fire punchlines directed at various drivers had some laughing and others groaning. A series of jokes about Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. left both stone-faced. Later in the show, Mohr backpedaled and said he loved Patrick.

What fans might not have expected was Kyle Busch’s comedy routine. Busch had one of the night’s more entertaining speeches. He noted how he hadn’t been on stage since 2010.

“While I was gone, not much has changed,’’ Busch said. “Jimmie and Chad win the championship. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. is the most popular driver. Mike Helton’s mustache is the still the same. And Jay Mohr’s jokes haven’t changed.

“One thing is different. I’m not in a familiar spot of 11th or 12th and already on my way home. I actually made it past dinner.’’

Clint Bowyer displayed humility in his speech, noting that his season was going well until it took “a spin for the worst.’’

Bowyer’s reference was to his spin in the final laps at Richmond International Raceway. That triggered a series of events that resulted in NASCAR penalizing Michael Waltrip Racing for attempting to manipulate the race and series officials adding Gordon to the Chase.

“I enjoy this sport and knew the magnitude of that situation and respected my part of it,’’ Bowyer said after his speech. “You’ve got to pay your dues when something like that happens. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you’re tied to anything negative for yourself, your race team or the sport, you’ve got to respect that situation.’’

Johnson’s concise speech, lasting less than eight minutes, provided the proper closing to the evening.

He paid homage to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

“When you do something only those two men have done is crazy and wild and humbling,’’ Johnson said during his speech. “I’m just so thankful for the opportunity. Truthfully, we’re all indebted to them for their contributions to the sport.’’

Johnson moved within a title of Petty and Earnhardt by winning six races, including two in the Chase and scoring a series-high 24 top-10 finishes this season.

“I sit right next to him in meetings, I’ve been there for years, I know what their setups are, I know how Jimmie is driving the car and still it’s as incredible to me as it is to anybody else,’’ Gordon said of Johnson’s dominance.

The rewards are substantial. Johnson collected $5,226,405 for his championship, making his season earnings $14,213,155.

Johnson showed his appreciation by thanking car owner Rick Hendrick and his wife Linda.

“I am honored to call myself a Hendrick employee,’’ Johnson said. “Thank you for having me be a part of your family.’’

Johnson also had special words for Knaus, who has been with Johnson for all six championships.

“Chad, we’re basically family,’’ Johnson said. “You’re desire and commitment to make that racecar go, I honestly cannot thank you enough for what you do, the leadership and even at times the things that frustrate me the most - that’s when you’re driving the car from the pit box. At the end of the day, pushing me as hard as you do only makes me better. It’s not fun at times, but it only makes me better. I cannot thank you enough.’’

Johnson closed his speech by quoting Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday.

“Sport has the power to change the world,’’ Johnson said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.’’

Johnson then added, “that’s true. That’s NASCAR.’’

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