Countdown to Beverly Hills: Jimmie Johnson By Dave Rodman CHARLOTTE, N.C.. (Jan. 8, 2001) -- Jimmie Johnson's inaugural season in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division was a breakthrough in more ways than one, but the California...
Countdown to Beverly Hills: Jimmie Johnson
By Dave Rodman
CHARLOTTE, N.C.. (Jan. 8, 2001) -- Jimmie Johnson's inaugural season in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division was a breakthrough in more ways than one, but the California native hopes in short order to become known more for his on-track prowess than an off-track miscue.
The lingering image of Johnson's 2000 season is of his No. 92 Chevrolet roaring through the first turn at Watkins Glen International after a brake failure, literally skipping across a protective gravel trap before spearing through Styrofoam blocks and a tire barrier to grotesquely warp the guardrail.
Johnson scrambled from the car and danced on its roof, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd and his joy at being alive and whole. By the end of the season, with a Hendrick Motorsports contract in hand, the 25-year-old former off-road pilot had much more than relief painting rainbows in his future.
But for now, Herzog Motorsports' driver will relish the satisfaction garnered in only his third full season racing stock cars. In 31 NBS, starts he scored 11 top-10 finishes, punctuated by a strong season-ending sixth at Homestead, Fla. As a result, he will be honored for 10th position in the standings on Friday night when he walks across the stage of the Grand Ballroom of the Regent Beverly Wilshire at the NBS awards banquet.
"Not only have I come a long way in a short time, this whole Herzog Motorsports team has," Johnson said of the owners who backed him for two seasons in the American Speed Association's ACDelco Challenge Series before he jumped into the Busch Series in 2000. "I don't even have 100 stock car races under my belt, so I have to give a lot of credit to the Herzogs for providing the support and the equipment to develop my driving skills -- it's just been incredible."
Johnson won the 1998 ASA Rookie of the Year Award and finished fourth in the ACDelco Challenge Series. He followed that up with a third place run in 1999 when he also made his initial forays into the Busch Series in cars prepared by former Hendrick Motorsports mechanic Tony Liberati. His 2000 season hit a bump coming out of the gate when the team failed to qualify at Daytona but its rebound was noteworthy.
"It was a really successful season for us at Herzog Motorsports -- we were all basically rookies so we couldn't have done any better," Johnson said. "We are looking for even better things in 2001. Our core group of people are still there and we really started jelling at the end of the season."
Johnson will drive the No. 92 Excedrin Chevrolet in 2001 for the Herzogs prior to jumping into the Hendrick organization in 2002. He finished third in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race behind Rookie of the Year Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday in a campaign that set a series standard with three rookies in the top-10 in the final standings.
"You're out there fighting every week trying to finish as well as you can and to learn as much as you can and being rookies you make mistakes," Johnson said of his initial NBS campaign. "Halfway through the season we had learned enough as a team to where we could actually race competitively and we started finishing in the top-10.
"It's been a lot of hard work and sometimes, when you're out there in the middle of the field just trying to learn you wonder if anyone notices. >From my scenario -- to have Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick pick up on me it shows people are paying attention." -nascar.com-