To Jimmie Johnson, it’s all about foundation.
Family, team, preparation.
“You’re not just going to jump in the car and drive it to victory on Sunday afternoon,” the NASCAR superstar said late last summer at Chase Elementary in El Cajon during his annual gift-giving visit to his hometown.
“Sunday is the results, the finish. What I do on Sunday is the top of the pyramid.”
That “pyramid” is rewriting stock car racing history.
The 38-year-old Johnson — who was born, raised and launched his racing career in east San Diego County – won his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title this season.
A seventh championship would put Johnson in a tie for the most in NASCAR history, placing him alongside NASCAR icons Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
“I know the significance of that,” says Johnson, who won his first five titles in a row from 2006-2010 making him the only driver to ever win more than three straight championships.
“When you hear your name mentioned in the same sentence as Petty, Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough (the only other driver to win as many as three straight titles) it’s both exciting and humbling. It’s like you need to pinch yourself. This is real?”
The boy who started by riding small motorcycles in the hills around his family’s home in Crest and racing minibikes at Barona Oaks has grown into the man who has won 66 Sprint Cup races and those six championships in a dozen seasons.
The credit, he says, is shared with his Hendrick Chevrolet team led by crew chief Chad Knaus, his family (wife Chandra and young daughters Genevieve and Lydia) and parents (Cathy and Gary Johnson).
“I’ve been lucky all my life to have good, caring and supporting people around me,” said Johnson. “I learned. I’m still learning. I know I can be better.”
Away from the track, Johnson, who like many NASCAR drivers resides near Charlotte, N.C., cross-trains to the point where he has competed in long-distance running events including several marathons.
And there’s another foundation – the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. Formed in 2006 by Jimmie and Chandra Johnson, the charitable trust supports educational and disaster relief programs in San Diego County, North Carolina and Oklahoma.