Daytona 500 – Jimmie Johnson ready to begin his final full season
By the time Jimmie Johnson hangs up his helmet in November as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, he’ll be 45 and have much life ahead of him. And really, he’s open to just about anything.
Marathon running? Yes. Competing on open-wheel road courses? Of course. Skiing? Well, he has a house in Colorado so that goes without saying. And he’s not done with NASCAR entirely, either.
Really, the future belongs to the man known as JJ and for that he is excited. But for the time being his final full Cup season awaits, and that begins Sunday, Feb. 16, when he and 39 other drivers take to the 2 1/2-mile tri-oval of Northern Florida’s Daytona International Speedway in the 2020 Daytona 500, which airs live on Fox.
For Johnson, it will be the 19th time he’s run in the “Great American Race,” which he’s won twice, in 2006 and ’13. It also represents the beginning of his last chance to win a record eighth Cup title, which would vault him past Richard Petty on the all-time list.
Such an accomplishment would put a nice coda to what is certain to be a Hall of Fame career, but it won’t change Johnson’s mind about retirement.
“I never chased a stat, like that has never been me,” he explains. “I’ve chased the experience, so the experience of winning an eighth, if we were to do so, would be everything but it wouldn’t change my mind-set. You know, I’m not about statistics and pushing on. I’m about living life to the fullest and trying to have these incredible experiences.”
Indeed, he’s had a few away from the racetrack. Last year, he ran in the Boston Marathon, completing the 26.2-mile course in a little over three hours. He’s also done a few half-marathons, is very much into cycling, mountain biking and skiing and would love to take a crack at driving an Indy car on a street course. Toward that end, the Southern California native has a specific race in mind.
“I’ve been to that Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix so many years as a kid,” Johnson says. “You know, park my car, park the car with my parents, hear the cars ripping around, cross the pedestrian bridge, the adrenaline flowing through me, thinking, ‘I gotta race here.’ And I told myself as a kid, ‘Some day, you’re going to come here and race.’ Well dammit, I want to go do that.”
And he won’t be done with NASCAR beyond ’20, either. He’ll run a limited schedule and may even show up for another Daytona 500 or two.
“I really, really do feel like I have a lot of competitive years left …,” Johnson says. “I had an experience driving a McLaren F1 car last November and it was just mind-blowing – like wow, I want to experience more of this. So I’