BUSCH: Johnson focused on Busch

Johnson still focused on Busch, but Cup career looms By Marty Smith LOS ANGELES (Jan. 22, 2001) -- One rainy day last summer in Brooklyn, Mich., Busch Series rookie Jimmie Johnson was down and out about his then-current situation with...

Johnson still focused on Busch, but Cup career looms
By Marty Smith

LOS ANGELES (Jan. 22, 2001) -- One rainy day last summer in Brooklyn, Mich., Busch Series rookie Jimmie Johnson was down and out about his then-current situation with Herzog Motorsports, and thus sought advice on possible future exploits from an infallible source -- namely three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

Two weeks after that brief conversation, not only had Johnson's situation improved, it had ascended to a level the young phenom never imagined -- the Winston Cup Series in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

"It was Silly Season and Herzog Motorsports still didn't have a sponsor for this year. At the same time, there were teams that knew our predicament and that we were looking, and they were offering me rides, Cup opportunities, Busch opportunities, Truck opportunities," said Johnson of his predicament.

"So at Michigan, I went over to Jeff's hauler and explained my situation and he said, 'You know what, I don't really want to give you any advice because I think we've got something for you.'"

Not quite believing his ears but more than willing to obey orders, Johnson left his future in Gordon's hands. It was a fine choice, indeed.

"He'd been meaning to talk to me but just hadn't had time," Johnson said. "It was the very early stages, so there wasn't much to talk about. He needed to go back and talk to Rick (Hendrick) about it, and said he'd get in touch with me. Well, in about two weeks time, they decided I'd be Jeff Gordon's teammate. So they signed me up.

"It was such a weird turn of events. When you go to somebody seeking advice, you're not looking for anything out of it. I just wanted five minutes of his time, and to end up signing a long term contract with him and Rick Hendrick, it made my head spin. I was shocked."

So, in 2002 Johnson's No. 84 Chevrolets will be housed in the same building as Gordon's famed No. 24 entries. The current plan is for Johnson to run at least five unspecified Winston Cup races this season in preparation for a full slate next year.

He's hoping some of Gordon's lucky charms will filter over the rainbow to his camp.

"We've been really lucky to always be in the right situation at the right time, it's been amazing that way," Johnson said. "Ever since I was 15, I've always been in good equipment and surrounded by good people that I can trust and people I know can give me advice. I really love racing and it's what I've poured my entire life into, devoted everything I've got into it. It's just been a dream come true."

For now, Johnson is focused on the 2001 Busch Series campaign, in which he'll once again pilot the No. 92 Chevy for Herzog Motorsports and new sponsor Excedrin.

In 2000, Johnson was "very impressive every time I saw him," according to Gordon. The numbers back up Gordon's sentiments. Despite failing to qualify for the season-opener at Daytona, he still finished 10th in the final series standings after posting six top-10 finishes.

"This puts me in such a unique situation, because I don't have to worry about going out and impressing people," Johnson said. "Realistically, we walked into Daytona last year and thought we could be top-10 in points and hopefully win a race. Then we didn't even make the race. So we started from like 54th in points and work our way to 10th, so I'm really trying to keep my goals realistic this year.

"I think we can be a top-5 team and a long shot for the championship. It'll be hard to beat Jeff Green, Jason Keller, (Kevin) Harvick, those guys that have been here. This is just my fourth season ever in a stock car. I still have less than 100 stock car races under my belt. So, I just want to win some races and some poles."

Despite his unforeseen good fortune, Johnson's core goals remain intact.

"My outlook hasn't changed," Johnson said. "I've always aspired to win as many races as I can and win championships and be the best driver I know I can be. All drivers feel like they can be the next Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt. Those goals are still there, but now they seem real. Now I'm going to a team where those dreams came come true. I'm going to be driving Jeff Gordon's racecars. That's a dream in itself." -nascar.com-

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About this article
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jason Keller , Jeff Green , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports