After more than 20 years in NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson has made a lot of friends. And those friends were only too happy to share some of their best memories of the seven-time champion, who will retire from full-time racing after Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway. After that, he’s off to compete in the IndyCar Series for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Throughout the 2020 season, For The Win has been talking to drivers, active and retired, and asking them to tell their favorite Jimmie Johnson stories ahead of the seven-time champ’s NASCAR retirement. They opened up about memorable days and quintessential Jimmie Johnson moments that quickly come to mind when they think of him and their friendships.
From Tony Stewart to Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Alex Bowman — Johnson’s teammate who will replace him in the No. 48 Chevrolet in 2021 — drivers shared funny, ridiculous and touching stories from Johnson’s two decades in NASCAR.
1. The time Chase Elliott needed a hand. And a push
“He’s been a been a friend for a number of years now. But the coolest encounter I’ve had with him over the years was after Watkins Glen.”
It was 2018, and Elliott had just won his first Cup Series race. But his car ran out of fuel on the cool-down lap and was essentially stuck in the middle of the track.
Jimmie Johnson to the rescue.
“He pushed me back around to the to the front straightaway, which I thought was really cool. And a person you look up to like that, in a moment like that — to share that in photos and things forever I think will be be pretty cool. So that that was a neat one for me. Obviously, a lot of fun off track occurrences too, but that one probably sticks out the most.”
Getting a push from a seven-time champ.
— #NASCARPlayoffs on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 5, 2018
2. The time Dale Earnhardt Jr. split his head open
“The one story that sticks out to me is way early on in our friendship,” Earnhardt recalled. “We were at Ricky Hendrick’s house, and I think Jimmy had won the race that day. So that evening, Ricky insisted that I come over and hang out, and they were all going to have a party.”
And at one point during that party, they filled the hot tub up with detergent, and soap and bubbles overflowed into the pool.
“I jumped into the swimming pool, and I hit my head on the bottom because I couldn’t see the bottom because of the suds in it,” Earnhardt continued. “And I’d slit my forehead open. It’s about two o’clock in the morning, and I got this inch-and-a-half split my forehead. And I don’t know what I’m gonna do.
“And Jimmie says, ‘Don’t worry, Hendrick has a doctor, and we’re going to call him and we’re going to be at his office.’ So I get in the car as a passenger, and he’s the driver. And he drove me about a 15-minute trip over this office in the middle of the night and sat in the room while the guy sewed my forehead up, talking to me and just laughing and joking.
“That happened a long time ago. And just kind of showed me what kind of character Jimmie is, even though we were there to celebrate his day and his victory. And everybody was there for Jimmie, and he was like, ‘Look, man, I got you. I’ll take care of this.’ And that’s just such a cool thing to do. And that’s who he is. He’s just a really good guy, who happens to be very, very good at what he does.”
3. The time Bubba Wallace became part of the Johnson family
“We always laugh about it,” Wallace said about this 2019 pre-race moment.
“We were in driver intros during the ride around for the pace laps in the back of the truck waving to the crowd. And he had his daughters with him. And I’ll never forget this. He had his daughters with him. And as they got in the truck, he introduced us, and they both said, ‘Hey.’ And so leaving, I was like, ‘Alright, brother, have a good race tonight.’ He’s like, ‘Thanks, man. You too.’
But Johnson’s youngest, Lydia, who would have been five or six years old at the time, didn’t care for that.
“And Lydia looked at me in the most disgusted, shocked look, and look back at Jimmie. [Lydia] was like, ‘Why did he just call you brother?’ Oh, I lost it. I lost it. I was just like, Surprise, we’re family!
“So that’s my best Jimmie Johnson story. And I texted him after the race that night, and he said him and [his wife, Chandra], were on their knees laughing so hard about the story.”
4. The time Johnson got stuck in Tony Stewart’s elevator
“So I’m literally on stage talking to the fan club president in front of everybody, and my phone rings,” Stewart continued. “So I grab it to turn the ringer off, and I see it’s Jimmie Johnson. And I said, ‘Hey, this is Jimmie Johnson. Let me grab this real quick.’
“So I answered the phone. The guy still has a microphone to me, and I’m like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’
“Jimmie goes, ‘I’m stuck in your elevator and don’t know how to get out.’ I said, ‘Make sure the door’s closed.’
“He goes, ‘If I have to break this door down to get out, I’ll do it.’ He goes, ‘But Lowe’s will pay to fix it.’ I’m like, ‘You don’t have to break the door down. Just make sure that the inside door is shut all the way or else it will not move and will not let it get to the floor.’
“He gets it all shut up and figures out that’s exactly what it was, and he got out of the elevator. And the whole fan club picnic was dying laughing in the background listen to this conversation.”
5. The time Clint Bowyer ended up in a Johnson family Christmas card
“I made the family Christmas card because I stayed after one of his championship parties one time, and we had a hell of a good time,” Bowyer said. “And needless to say, I don’t I don’t know if I was invited or uninvited, but I made the Christmas card.”
Bowyer said he doesn’t remember which of Johnson’s championship years this was. Actually, there are a few gaps in his memory of that night, but Jimmie’s dad, Gary Johnson, ended up sending the photo out as a Christmas card. Twice.
“I don’t remember even being in the Christmas card picture,” Bowyer said. “But that’s what made that’s why [Jimmie’s dad] Gary thought it was so funny because we were definitely, definitely celebrating in a large way. Just kind of all fell together, literally.”
6. The time Johnson gave Martin Truex Jr. a champion’s gift
“For me, no question, it was when he brought the champions’ journal to me,” Truex said about the aftermath of his 2017 Cup Series championship.
After Johnson won five consecutive championships, he wondered why there wasn’t something special to pass down from winner to winner. So he started a journal and passed it off to Tony Stewart in 2011, and after it made it back in his hands for his 2016 championship, Johnson delivered it to first-time champ Truex when they were in Las Vegas for the NASCAR Awards.
“I wasn’t really expecting it,” Truex said. ‘He said, ‘Hey, are you in your room? I have something for you.’
“It was it was just really, really cool, really sincere. [We] spent time talking, sharing, congratulating us, and you could tell he was happy for us and just the kind of guy he is, obviously. So that was definitely special for him to take the time to do that. And you could tell that it wasn’t fake. It was real, and that he’s just a super, super good person.”
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) November 30, 2017
7. The time Johnson consoled Danica Patrick after his Daytona 500 win
“My first Daytona 500 as a full-time cup driver, I was running third coming into the last lap, and Jimmie ended up winning the race,” Patrick said about the 2013 Daytona 500 when she won the pole.
“I was beating myself up a little bit for not having a plan. I was like, ‘Man, how did I not see that coming? Dale Jr. dropped back, and then he got a run. Man, I should have done something different.’
And I remember [Johnson] telling me he didn’t have any plan. There’s no plan going into those last laps at either of the [Daytona 500s] he won. And he said, ‘I didn’t plan for that one, and I didn’t plan for this one. And don’t beat yourself up that you should have had a plan because you can’t. It just happens.’
“I remember thinking: Thanks, Jimmie. Thanks for making me feel better about myself as a driver when I was beating myself up that I coulda shoulda woulda done something different. … And that was some nice, sage perspective from a guy like Jimmie.”
8. The time Jeff Gordon and Johnson won abroad
When asked what his favorite Jimmie Johnson story is, Gordon said laughing: “Probably not one I could tell you.”
Gordon thought about it for a moment and mentioned how he and Johnson would travel all over together as friends. And sometimes teammates.
“We were teammates together at an event called the Race of Champions,” Gordon said. “He and I were teammates with motorcycle racer Colin Edwards in this event called the ROC, and they’d bring drivers from all over and motorcycle riders from all over the world and team you up on a country team. So we were Team USA.
“We went to the Canary Islands in Spain, and we made a trip out of it. We had a lot of fun. We were in Madrid and Paris, and one of our other buddies, Casey Mears, was with us. And we just had a blast, and on top of that, we won this event, which I think still to this day is the only time Team USA ever won that event.”
9. The time Joey Logano finished second to Johnson
“My most memorable moment was good for him, maybe not for me,” Logano said. “But I remember finishing second to him [in 2016] and being on the [NASCAR Awards] stage, doing my speech, and looking at him at a championship table and how mad I was at the time.
“But it kind of hit me at the moment where, you know, he’s a seven time champion, and he had to go through me to do that. And that meant a little bit something to me. Take a little bit of pride in that.
“I didn’t race against Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt, but I got to race against Jimmie Johnson. And that’s equally as cool. Something like that, to me, is just [the] most memorable pieces in general kind of all thrown together and lumped into that one moment.”
10. The time Johnson simply said hi to Alex Bowman
“He was the first guy to come talk to me in the cup garage when I started running Cup in 2014 and gave me some words of encouragement,” said Bowman, Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports since Bowman took over the No. 88 car in 2018.
“And [he was] like, ‘Man, you’re doing a really good job with the the situation you’re in.’ So that was really cool. But yeah, just being his teammate has been awesome.”
11. The time William Byron was totally starstruck by Johnson
“I grew up a Jimmie fan, so I think my best the best story was one that he probably didn’t think much about,” Byron said about Johnson, who’s 22 years his senior.
“The first media day that I ever had was in the [third-tier] Truck Series, and he got a chance to talk to me, and I was going through the rotations. He walked up and stood next to me was doing his media, and I was just so starstruck by that. So I think that’s probably the one that that sticks out to me of kind of the first moment that I’ve been starstruck in NASCAR.”
Eventually, Byron told Johnson about the moment he was in awe of the champion.
“Later on when we became teammates, I was like, ‘Man, this one moment,’ and he laughed.”
12. The time Austin Dillon got way more than he asked for from Johnson
“When I was in [the second-tier] Xfinity [Series] and running for a championship in the first year, I reached out to him,” Dillon explained during a media scrum before the 2020 Daytona 500.
“I was running like second or third while running for that championship and just wanted his advice as a Chevy driver and reached out. And he came back with everything he could give me as far as wisdom in racing for a championship [and] how he would race for a championship. He started texting me after each race and was coming back to me with something even through Homestead and practices. It was cool.”
But, in typical Johnson fashion, he didn’t stop there.
“Then in the second year in Xfinity when we won the championship, we were doing similar things,” Dillon continued. “But this time, he was actually asking me similar questions on what the track would do.
“Hearing that from a guy that won five championships at that time, I was just kind of mind blown that he was able to talk to someone that is in a lesser series and be able to learn from them. He was going to take anything he could take and apply it to his game. That is something that I will always remember from Jimmie, is the relentless effort and not afraid to get better in any way.”
13. The time Johnson chewed out Ryan Blaney
“It wasn’t a pleasant story at the time, but it really sticks out to me is when he and I got into it at Watkins Glen last year,” Blaney said.
“We got together, ended up with him spinning out and it wasn’t intentional on my part, but he comes over after the race, and I got a pretty good ass-chewing from him for about a minute or two. And, and we didn’t see eye-to-eye at all about the incident.
“But you know, the following week at Michigan [International Speedway], I went into his bus and we talked about it. And we agreed to disagree on some things, but we got over it and reset and went racing the next week. So that sticks out in my mind — I got into a little argument with Jimmie Johnson. You never see him really lose his cool or anything like that. But I got my butt chewed out by Jimmie, and I’ll never forget that.
“It just shows Jimmie’s character. We talked about it next week, and we’re fine. But he’s just been a really great guy. … It’s great that we got over it six days later.”
14. The time Ryan Newman got the edge on Johnson
“It was fun racing against him for Rookie of the Year. And then here we are 20 years later, he’s moving on doing something different, and I’m still trying to achieve what he did.
“I beat him for Rookie of the Year. You only get to do that once, right? He beat me seven other times, I can promise you. But you can never take back Rookie of the Year.”
15. The time Johnson made sure Brad Keselowski was OK
“I have two favorites. One was the first time I met him. He had just won his first Cup championship and he was down to earth, very humble, and I’ll remember that forever. I was at Junior Motorsports, and he treated me as an equal although I had nowhere near the resume, and I had never even won a Cup race at that point in time in my life. I was always so impressed by that, his humility.
“And the second was when I got a really bad wreck in Atlanta. And he stopped to check on me and make sure I was OK. We were testing, so he just stopped. I always thought that that was something he did that he didn’t have to do and showed character.”