Johnson won't kneel during Anthem, but "I do support peaceful protest"
Jimmie Johnson is a stand-up kind of guy.
The philanthropic endeavors of the seven-time Cup champion have been well-documented during his NASCAR tenure.
Whether that means coming to the aid of others — as he did last week when he assisted victims of Hurricane Irma in Florida or supporting breast cancer survivors at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday — Johnson is extremely generous with his time and contributions.
And when it comes to rising for the National Anthem, Johnson will always stand up. Last Sunday, the National Football League received as much or more attention for its pregame activities as it did for the action on the field.
Johnson's take on National Anthem debate
While Johnson comprehends — and supports other athletes who desire to express their convictions, he’ll continue to exercise his own freedom when it comes to pre-race protocol.
“I’m one that believes that social injustice and racism are absolutely unacceptable,” Johnson said. “I also believe that we all have freedom of speech. I do support peaceful protest. Through my upbringing and my childhood, I had grandfathers that served (in the military). My grandmother served. My brother-in-law served and lost his life serving our country — helping others that served our country.
“So, I choose to stand. And I will stand.... We can debate the gray areas of the First Amendment and all work up our opinions. I have mine. I stated mine. I believe in peaceful protests — and I choose to stand.”
No White House invite
Traditionally, most sports champions are feted at the White House, where the Commander in Chief acknowledges each team’s accomplishments. NASCAR is no different. Last Friday, Stephen Curry voiced his desire to decline the invitation, which was later rescinded by the White House.
As of Wednesday, the White House has yet to reach out to Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team following their 2016 title. But, for now, Johnson has a greater concern — the 2017 playoffs.
“We haven’t had the invite,” Johnson said. “In other years, it’s been the case as well. I’ve been so focussed on trying to win races and get back into this championship battle that it hasn't even crossed my mind.
“Those things do take a long time to plan. With only a handful of weeks left, I’m not sure what will shake out. I’m just going to stay focused on winning the championship.”
Looking towards the championship
After finishing 14th on Sunday at Loudon, Johnson is currently seventh in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings, 73-points behind Playoff leader Martin Truex Jr. This weekend the Cup tour competes at Dover International Speedway — Johnson’s best track on the circuit. With 11 career wins, including a victory last June, Johnson holds the record for most checkered flags at the Monster Mile. He has also scored 16 top fives and 22 top 10s in 31 starts.
“The last three weeks we’ve been managing our internal expectations and the challenges of a race weekend much better,” Johnson said. “Sure we had an issue at New Hampshire (in practice) and crashed the second lap on the track, and it put us in a little bit of a hole. But we really had a clean day on the race track, a good performance. So we’re going in the right direction.
“Sure, we wish we had a chunk of speed, and it’s obvious that there’s a couple of cars that have a good advantage on everyone, but we’re going to fight to the very end. Tracks like Dover, tracks like Charlotte, our expectations are high, and we hope we can take advantage of our best tracks.”
Dover couldn’t come at a better time for Johnson. The last time the No. 48 Chevy led a lap was 12 races ago at Daytona. In the last eight races, Johnson has only advanced to the final round of qualifying twice.
Like most of the field, Johnson has struggled to keep up with the Toyotas over the second half of the season. He understands the feeling of having that level of advantage, having been the dominant driver for so much of his career. Sure, it would be easy for Johnson to dwell on the performance of the Nos. 78 (Truex) and 18 (Kyle Busch) teams, but it has always been the team’s philosophy to concentrate on their own program.
“That’s honestly always been our approach,” Johnson said. “There’s only two guys with this big advantage. We want to be the third guy. We want to be in that group. So we’ve kept our head down and tried to achieve that.”
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