BROOKLYN, Mich. – Don’t read anything into the term of Jimmie Johnson’s new contract with Hendrick Motorsports.
Yes, Johnson signed a three-year extension with the organization that has provided him a ride for his entire Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
Yes, that’s shorter than the five-year deal he inked last time. At the end of the 2020 season, Johnson will be 45, a year older than his car owner and mentor, Jeff Gordon, was when he retired from full-time racing at NASCAR’s highest level.
But Johnson says passion, not age, will govern his decision to step aside—whenever that may be.
“I think in all fairness to the questions and to myself, any contract I sign right now with my age is probably going to raise questions,” Johnson told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday before opening practice for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET on FS1).
“I get it, but I don’t have a vision of if it’s three (years), if it’s five, if it’s seven—I don’t know. I do know I’m having a great time, and I don’t want to stop right now.”
Johnson has unfinished business, after all. His victory at Dover gave him 83 for his career, tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time. Right in front of Johnson are Hall of famers Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, tied for fourth with 84 wins each.
And, of course, there’s the eighth championship. Should he win one more, Johnson would stand at the pinnacle of the sport—alone.
“I’ve never honestly been driven by stats, and I’ve said it so many times, but it’s hard to ignore where I sit on the wins list and not let my competitive spirit kick in and want more,” Johnson said. “Certainly, would love to climb further up the ladder there. Eight championships, I would love to stand alone at that…”
But for Johnson, the competition is paramount, and any new performance standards he accomplishes, he wants to do with crew chief Chad Knaus, whose contract is up after next year. For Johnson, that means another year to convince his long-time pit boss to stay around for the duration.
“For me, it’s really about racing,” Johnson said. “I just love to race. The experience I have with my engineers, with my team, with Chad, that bond and that experience combined with the experience of driving and competing… there is a high in that, that I’ve chased my entire career.
“That’s still why I get in that race car. Someday, when that fades, that’s when I’ll step down. It’s not going to be because of stats and where I rank or how many championships I have. It’s all about that experience in the car. That experience is as cool as it’s ever been, and I’m really enjoying it right now.”