Still going strong at 41, Johnson agrees to 3-year extension
By Noah Trister
AP Sports Writer
BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Fresh off another championship — and with three more victories already this season — Jimmie Johnson is showing no signs of slowing down.
Now, he’s ready for at least three more years of racing. Beyond that, Johnson is leaving his options open.
Johnson agreed to a three-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2020. Hendrick announced the deal with the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Friday.
“I’ve said it before and continued to say that when the fire does go out, I will step down,” said Johnson, who is preparing for this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway. “I don’t have any framework now on a timeline.
“I just know that I’ve got three more years of trying to go out there and win championships and win races. I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been and as focused and dedicated on doing my job.”
Hendrick already lost Jeff Gordon, who announced his retirement two years ago, and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in his final season . Johnson, however, won the title last year at age 41 and has no interest in stepping aside. Maybe this will be his final contract, maybe it won’t.
“I think in all fairness to the questions and to myself, any contract I sign right now with my age is probably going to raise questions,” Johnson said. “I get it, but I don’t have a vision of if it’s three, if it’s five, if it’s seven, I don’t know. I do know I’m having a great time and I don’t want to stop right now.”
Hendrick also announced that Lowe’s has signed an agreement to continue its primary sponsorship of Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet through next year. Lowe’s has been Johnson’s primary sponsor for each of his 557 career Cup starts.
“Jimmie is one of the best to ever drive,” owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “We’re so fortunate to have him as part of our organization, and I feel even luckier to call him a friend. He’s a great champion, a terrific advocate for Lowe’s and a true ambassador for NASCAR. There’s no better person, and he’s as good in the race car today as he’s ever been.”
Johnson tied a record with his seventh Cup Series title, and he leads all drivers with three victories in 2017. He’s tied for sixth on the career list with 83 wins — one behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip and 10 behind Gordon.
“I’ve never honestly been driven by stats and I’ve said it so many times, but it’s hard to ignore where I sit on the wins list and not let my competitive spirit kick in and want more,” Johnson said. “Certainly, would love to climb further up the ladder there. Eight championships, I would love to stand alone at that.”
Johnson said he and Hendrick have had an informal agreement: He’ll always have a spot at Hendrick and he won’t go anywhere else. Johnson, Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus have formed one of the most successful partnerships in any sport over the past 16 years, and the relentless consistency of the No. 48 car has stood out even more of late.
Johnson is the only driver to win for Hendrick since the start of the 2016 season.
“Sitting in closed-door meetings I know that there is a lot of options being explored, and I know in Rick’s heart that it’s all to put the best four cars on the race track for Hendrick Motorsports and win races and championships,” said Johnson, who was 13th on Friday in qualifying for Sunday’s race. “It’s hard to tell where it’s going to go, but my faith is in Rick.”
Now Hendrick can count on at least three more seasons from one of the sport’s greatest drivers.
“We will see how these three years go,” Johnson said. “Certainly from my standpoint I hope to collect another big trophy and then lots of other race trophies along the way and have some fun.”