Jimmie Johnson drove to Daytona with a bunch of kiddie seats in tow.
There’s Genevieve Marie and Lydia Norriss, his adorable baby girls. And there’s Chase, William and Alex, his adorable teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
The extreme shift from veterans to aspiring young drivers in NASCAR is best exemplified at Hendrick Motorsports, where Chase Elliott (22), Alex Bowman (22) and William Byron (20) will saddle up with Johnson (42) for the 2018 Monster Energy Cup season.
He expects to be called everything from “Daddy Dearest’’ to “Grandpa.’’
“I think my kids give me that shock value on my age,” Johnson said, chatting outside his motor coach. “I’m in a good spot with my age and where I am with my career and all of that. There hasn’t been an eye-opening thing of, ‘Wow, I’m old.’ I know that already. This is my 17th year. It’s been a long 16 seasons, [but] with all the success, it’s still a grind.”
But a good grind.
Johnson has seven Cup victories, a number that ties him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all time. Mr. Seven Time would love to become Mr. Eight Time, but the clock is ticking.
Although he won three races and qualified for the playoffs, Johnson never really found true speed the second half of the year. It was one of his most frustrating seasons.
“Usually the harder I work, eventually we find a conclusion, and last year we couldn’t find a conclusion,” he said. “That’s where the frustration really set in. This year, there are a lot of new elements that will change the mousetrap if you will. We’ve got a ton of optimism and really looking forward to get it going.”
But the competitive vibe will also shift to his role as mentor for the Hendrick pack. They’ve found good speed already, with Bowman grabbing the pole for Sunday’s Great American Race and Johnson posting the third-fastest lap time.
“They have all come to me,” Johnson said. “Our touch points are just kind of starting up now. I found myself at the head of the de-brief, leading the de-brief and recognizing the tone that I set and how I led the meeting, those guys are going to follow suit. To be honest with you, most of the conversations have been more about off-the-track related things and balancing life. What to get, what to buy. All these things it takes to live on the road week in and week out.”
Everybody, buckle up and listen to what Grandpa says.
firstname.lastname@example.org Read George Diaz’s blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego