Jimmie Johnson's Decision Leaves Another Hole To Fill For NASCAR
Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is set to retire from full-time racing after the '20 season, joining an "exodus of popular drivers that began" when Jeff Gordon retired after the '15 season, according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. Other drivers that followed in Gordon's footsteps include Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick. Johnson, 44, had two years remaining on his contract when new sponsor, Ally, "signed on before this season to replace Lowe's." Last month, Ally announced a three-year extension to sponsor the No. 48," but Johnson's future was "not tied to the renewal" through '23. Johnson has 83 Cup victories, tied with NASCAR HOFer Cale Yarborough (AP, 11/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Bromberg wrote Johnson's retirement "isn't much of a surprise." This season, Johnson repeatedly said that he "hadn't decided how long his career would last and with his contract ending after next season and a new Cup Series car set to be implemented" in '21, next year is a "logical endpoint" for his career. For Hendrick Motorsports, there is "no obvious in-house replacement for Johnson." Consequently, it is "likely that the team will go outside the organization to find his replacement." That "could send" the '21 Cup Series free-agent market "into a tizzy" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/20).
CHANGE OF PACE: NBCSN's Nate Ryan said he was told Johnson made his decision to retire "about three weeks ago and it took about that long for him to get everything lined up (and) talk to all the people he wanted to talk to." NBCSN's Kyle Petty said, "Only a driver knows in his head when he's willing to step away" ("NASCAR America," NBCSN, 11/20). ESPN's Marty Smith said Johnson is looking for a "better life balance." Smith noted when your a Cup Series driver, the "commitments are endless." He added, "You race 38 times a year. You have sponsor commitments. You have fan commitments, organizational commitments. It's ceaseless and he's just ready for one more go-around in 2020 full-time" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 11/20).
ALL THE BEST: Tributes and congratulations to Johnson have poured in on Twitter, especially from current and former NASCAR drivers. Dale Eanhardt Jr.: "I can’t wait to spend next year observing the weekly celebrations of one of the greatest to ever do it." Jeff Gordon: "A class act & true champion on & off the track." Kurt Busch: "Johnson conquered everything in NASCAR, just as Petty and Earnhardt did." Joey Logano: "I wasn’t able to race against Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt, but I got to race against @JimmieJohnson." Kasey Kahne: "Can’t wait to see what the future has in store for him." Fox' Jamie Little: "So happy he announced this ahead of time so we can rightfully celebrate him each race next year." Motor Racing Network's Dave Moody: "He deserves every tribute he will receive in the next 12 months, and there will be many" (TWITTER.com, 11/20).
PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE: In North Carolina, Ed Hardin writes this year was a "memorable season" for NASCAR, though "no one really remembers what memorable seasons once looked like." Fans "saw some great races, even in some places" they "didn't expect." But they also "saw further evidence of NASCAR not knowing what fans want or what to do about those disappearing from the sport forever." The "stark reality is that stock-car racing is losing fans at the Cup level, while anecdotal evidence shows that short tracks, particularly in the South, continue to draw." At some point, NASCAR has to "wake up to this reality." Cup fans "want more short-track races" and "more road-course races." They "just want to be heard." But NASCAR President Steve Phelps so far has "said nothing of what fans want." NASCAR will "never die as long as its base is somewhat solid." The long-time fans "don't want it to fail," and they "don't care about what the new fans think." However, there are "no new fans" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 11/21).