Away from the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip, fans of NASCAR's four-time champion Jimmie Johnson gathered in a line that snaked through The Orleans Hotel and Casino, a local off-the-Strip hotel, for a chance to ask the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet a question.
Tickets were originally given out exclusively to members of the hotel's player club program, but eventually were open to the public.
Fans of all ages and from all parts of the country gathered in the small theatre, decked out in their favorite Johnson gear, holding memorabilia in hopes there would be an autograph session after.
Johnson was welcomed to a standing ovation and discussion began about the great start to his season with the win in the Gatorade Duel and last week's win at Auto Club Speedway.
The word “luck” was brought up in reference to the win at ACS and Johnson admitted luck did factor in allowing him to get the lead, but that he still had to hold off the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick for the remainder of the race.
Johnson also announced he and his wife Chandra, who are expecting a child, recently found out they will be having a baby girl and are in super-pink shopping mode. He joked he will have to work longer because of this.
The moderator asked about his recent series, 24/7 Jimmie Johnson: Race to Daytona. Johnson explained it came about when Chandra and he watched the boxing series and it turned her into a boxing fan. This triggered Johnson to think what kind of an impact he could make on the sport if he did it for NASCAR.
On the topic of staying hydrated and conditioned during the race, Johnson promoted new Gatorade products the drivers use pre and post-race. He also stated he is taking his training much more seriously this year and gave a shout-out to his teammate, Mark Martin, for being in such great shape.
One of the audience members told the story about Johnson's burnout on the Strip during Champion's Week, which brought laughter to the audience, as well as an anecdote about Brian Vickers being a menace during a time he tried to get an autograph from Johnson.
The “Drive for Five” topic was brought up and Johnson said he's not thinking about it too much right now, because it brings on too much pressure.
Chad Knaus was a topic as well, with Johnson referring to him as his second wife and how serious Knaus takes his job. Johnson said Knaus is focused on winning and that Johnson and him are working together to get the wins.
An audience member asked on knowing who to “team up with” on each track. Johnson said on Daytona and Talladega he has no friends, but it changes from week to week. He also said it doesn't pay for him to bump anyone, because he usually winds up crashing himself.
Being in Vegas, the moderator brought up the Busch brothers (not a popular topic in the room as the entire room booed), if he worries about them at the Vegas track and which drivers he worries about at certain tracks. He complimented the younger Busch by saying Kyle can pretty much drive everywhere and mentioned a few drivers he correlates with tracks.
The session lasted about a half hour and most of the questions from the audience members were fun, while the more serious questions came from the moderators.
In all, it was a great experience for everyone that had a chance to be in the small theatre with the four-time champion.
Photo Courtesy: Farrah Kaye