Sunday, March 1 is a date Jimmie Johnson has had circled on the calendar, especially since announcing that 2020 would mark his final NASCAR Cup Series season as a full-time driver.
The date marks Johnson‘s return to his home track Auto Club Speedway, the site of his first of 83 career wins. The El Cajon native is the all-time Cup Series win leader at the 2-mile track, with six victories, and Sunday‘s Auto Club 400 will mark his 26th start there.
“I‘ve had a lot of race wins there and a lot of special moments,” Johnson said. “My first win. So, early in the season, we get to one of my top three that I‘m looking forward to going to the most.”
While Johnson has many memories at Auto Club, more are in store for this weekend as the track has many special events planned that include Johnson leading the five-wide salute during the pace laps along with his wife, Chandra, and daughters, Genevieve and Lydia, waving the green flag. In addition, Johnson‘s long-time mentor and motocross racer Ricky Johnson will be the honorary pace car driver.
“This is certainly a different one for us and my family,” Johnson said. “I am very thankful that the track came to us with that suggestion to get my family up there in the stands. I think pre-race will be full of emotions. They will have a chance to come across the stage with me and be introduced with their responsibilities. Being a part of the five-wide salute at the front of the field, and then see those hands up there in that flag stand is going to be cool.”
See Also: Auto Club to Honor Johnson
Johnson‘s first win at Auto Club came in his 13th career start and during his rookie campaign in 2002.
“If any driver could script their first win and the circumstances I think they would choose a path similar to what I went through,” Johnson said. “It was my 10th start of that season, a win at my home track. You couldn‘t script it any better. When I look back I’m still amazed that it turned out that way.
“When I go back mentally to that point in my life I just wanted to win a race. I‘ve said it many times and I‘m very serious about this with Jeff (Gordon) winning the championship the year before and they gave me his inventory of cars and equipment I felt like I had to win. Standing there and climbing out of that car and the minutes that followed that the relief that came off my shoulders knowing that I could win.”
See Also: 48 Stories with Jimmie Johnson
Motor Racing Network’s live coverage of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Story updated 2/28