CONCORD, N.C. – Throughout Jimmie Johnson’s nearly hour-long press conference Thursday detailing his decision to retire at the end of next season, there was a prevailing theme throughout: family.
It began when Johnson’s two daughters – nine-year-old Genevieve and six-year-old Lydia – were called to the stage by NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley to introduce their father and his team owner, Rick Hendrick.
It came full-circle at the end of the media availability, when Johnson choked up talking about his racing family and the emotions he has going into his final full-time year of NASCAR Cup Series competition.
In between were a myriad of touching moments, all cementing Johnson’s character, class and commitment as he prepares to chase a record eighth Cup championship one final time in 2020.
Johnson opened the presser by noting that while his decision to retire from full-time racing after 2020 is one that he’s been thinking over for some time, he didn’t actually tell his team about the decision until Wednesday morning, shortly before the news broke to the general public on social media.
That aspect – Johnson’s racing family – was another variation of the word that intertwined itself into Thursday’s proceedings.
“It’s been interesting, because I worked through my headspace before I came to see Rick and spend some time with Jeff (Gordon) … that was all three weeks to a month ago, if not a little longer,” he explained. “Now I’m a little further down the road and so excited to be where I am today and talking about what my plans are. At the end of it all, I’m just very excited and ready to get 2020 started.
“The process has been interesting, telling friends, telling my team and sitting all of them down … people that have worked on the 48 from the beginning,” Johnson noted. “That was probably one of the harder moments I think that I had. When I went to dinner the other night, Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) … I’m not sure he completely thought it was coming out of left field, but I did catch his attention when I mentioned it to him. But it’s been an interesting process and a day that you never really plan for, but it’s here and I’m just thankful to be with family and friends and this man right here (Hendrick) and all that he’s done for my life.
“We’re gonna have a good time this next year, I’m already sure of that.”
Johnson was quick to note that there wasn’t a specific reason that he made this decision to retire at the end of 2020, but that it just “felt right” for him to step back and prepare to spend more time with his family.
“It was just a strong feeling in my stomach, like, ‘wow, this is what I want to do,’” he explained. “So I, of course, talked to (wife) Chandra about it and then some time went on there before I spoke to Rick and Jeff, and then I just thought it through a bit more. But I feel very, very good about my decision and it’s just … it’s time and it showed up, and I feel so fortunate that it showed up to me in that way.
“I’ve talked to greats like Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Jeff, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., and everyone’s had their own journey, and some of those guys set a date and left before their heart really wanted to leave, or with a lot of other athletes, their time is called and they don’t have that opportunity to pick their moment,” he added. “And you know, I feel very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity.
“When you roll that all up, it just feels right and I’m ready (for that step).”
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