FONTANA, Calif. – Jimmie Johnson was emphatic during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Friday at Auto Club Speedway.
The desire to race still burns white-hot in the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“The desire to keep racing is absolutely there,” Johnson said. “Races, championships, and being a part of this great sport of ours–I’m going to be around for a while. I’m excited about that.”
Earlier in the week, long-time primary sponsor Lowe’s announced the company would not return to the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this season. Though Johnson acknowledged the importance of the home improvement company’s backing to his career, he also views the transition as an opportunity to associate his brand with other companies.
“First of all, what a run to have an 18-year relationship with such an amazing company,” Johnson said of his association with Lowe’s, which signed on for his first full season in 2002. “The friendships, the relationships, the way we’ve been able to deliver to their marketing efforts, the history we’ve made in our own sport, the chance I had to even drive a Cup car because of them…
“There are so many levels to it that I am very, very thankful for and proud of. Of course, I wish we could finish it out together, but that’s not the circumstance. But then, to look forward, I’m very optimistic about the future and myself and our race team to have an opportunity we haven’t had before to go out and shop our deal and see what’s out there and what we can do from a branding standpoint for a new company.
“Now that the announcement is out, we can get to work on that and see what the future holds for our team.”
From Johnson’s standpoint, there’s no ambiguity about his future as a racer. He laughed off speculation about “early retirement” after the 2018 season. Currently, Johnson is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most titles at NASCAR’s highest level.
Johnson wants to break that tie.
“I have more to do, and I enjoy the process and Hendrick is home and retirement hasn’t been on my mind,” said Johnson, who needs 10 more victories to catch former teammate Jeff Gordon for third on the all-time list. “I want to win. I want to win an eighth championship…
“There are just a lot of different ways I could look at it and say that it’s the absolute wrong time. But I guess, at the end of the day, it’s really my desire to compete and to compete at a high level. I’m not done yet.”