Daytona Beach – Since winning his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, Jimmie Johnson has become known as “Five Time,” but with his second Daytona 500 victory, his new nickname seems to be “Seven Time.” At the early-morning Champion’s Breakfast on Monday, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, team owner Rick Hendrick and the crew all held up seven fingers in recognition of their accomplishment, to the delight of the assembled media...
Before flying off on a round of national media commitments, Johnson and the team returned to the track to meet with the media and to induct the winning car into the Gatorade Victory Lane (just outside the track) where it will reside for the next 12 months.
Later in the evening, Johnson and team carried their victory celebration to an even higher level. According to eye-witness accounts, the team party advanced from the infield to trackside with Johnson and others climbing atop the team hauler to do a victory dance. “Last night was a fun moment,” the winner said. “It was all impromptu and all of a sudden there was a transporter, music and a camera guy (present). We had even had some surprise guests with (Washington Nationals) baseball players Jason Werth and Adam LaRoche in the mix. And baseball players can take it to a whole new level, so we had some fun.”
Reports of the late-night revelry took Hendrick by surprise, and he wondered why he had not been included. Sheepishly, Johnson and company said it was an unplanned event.
Said Johnson about the victory, “I am so proud for Rick (Hendrick) for winning his seventh Daytona 500. To have the 48 and 88 shop finish 1-2 is really special. A lot of work went into those cars, and it was a big day all-around and I am savoring the moment.”
To be able to win this race..., every time you do it, it is like the first time.
Knaus was thrilled to be on hand for the victory as he missed out on the 2006 win, having been benched by NASCAR prior to the race. “It is such a long process to get down here,” he said. “Everybody focuses so hard for Daytona and to get the Gen-6 car down here and do so well was a big deal. I am happy to be here.”
The ever-smiling Hendrick added, “When you don’t win and have a rough Daytona, it takes several races or months to get over it. To be able to win this race, which is such a special one, every time you do it, it is like the first time. It does so much for the organization and with Junior (Earnhardt Jr.) running second, it gives us a lot of momentum (for season ahead).”
Throughout Speedweeks, the Lowe’s team stayed away from pack drafting and spent much of the team running alone, which apparently worked to their favor. “We spent a lot of time learning the car,” Johnson said. “Chad kept getting ideas and the guys were working on combinations, and the only way to figure it all out is with single-car runs. We stuck to our plan, and it worked well.”
According to Johnson, the Daytona and Talladega races are lottery-type events. “The field is so close that every guy has a shot,” he said. “ If you are smart in the draft, you can do make something work here. Juan Pablo (Montoya) in the Duel ran third with a destroyed race car. It takes everything to get it done, but there are only a few things the team can control, as 42 other guys can control more than you can as an individual.”
During the morning’s proceedings, Daytona speedway president Joie Chitwood III, presented Hendrick with a replica of the Harley J. Earl winner’s trophy and the Cannonball Baker Crew Chief trophy to Knaus.
Chitwood also presented Johnson, Hendrick and Knaus with commemorative leather jackets, and Johnson and Chitwood unveiled the logo for the 2014 Daytona 500.
Should Johnson win the 2013 championship, his nickname by next February may well have become “Eight Time.”