In front of the cameras, Jimmie Johnson can come across as Mr. Perfection. He doesn’t go on about issues within the sport, nor does he cause a bunch of wrecks.
In a way, some people see him as the perfect corporate spokesman. Some people could even go to the extent of saying he is too perfect for NASCAR.
As Evanescence says in the song Everybody’s Fool, "Perfect by nature […] Look here she comes now/Bow down and stare in wonder/Oh how we love you/No flaws when you’re pretending."
Those that think that should take the chance and listen to Jimmie’s father, Gary Johnson.
"I know Jimmie can come off as corporate," Gary Johnson was quoted in the article "The Soul of a Champion" in 2006. "When the cameras are on, he doesn’t always say what he’s really thinking, because that’s not the right time. But everyone should know that Jimmie wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth."
According to those that know Johnson, he was born with a pitch fork in his mouth due to how tough his journey turned out to be.
Jimmie Johnson was raised in a small town by the name of El Cajon; El Cajon is located in California on the foothills of Laguna Mountain, fifteen miles north of San Diego. Johnson was raised by parents Gary and Cathy in a two bedroom house with his two brothers Jarit and Jesse.
It was not easy for Gary and Cathy, who worked hard to raise their little boys. Gary would get up at four in the morning to drive a truck for B.F. Goodrich, while Cathy drove a school bus for extra money.
Even though they didn’t have the money, Gary managed to scavenge some old parts together and gave Johnson his first bike at the age of four, with training wheels of course, on Christmas Day.
He started his journey to championship stardom by traveling around the area with his brothers, racing against friends. He turned out to be successful at racing, winning his fist local championship at the age of eight.
However some of his friends were killed in accidents, so Gary pushed his son towards off-road truck racing, hoping it would be safer. Instead, Gary’s worst fear almost came true.
Johnson went and entered the Baja 1000 at the age of 19. Over nine hours into the event, he was leading, yet he was also tired. Just for a second, he dozed off and rolled it down a cliff.
Lost in the middle of nowhere, Johnson had no hope of rescue. This turned out to be a good thing, as he thought over his career and how things had gotten to that point.
"I was young, and all I thought about was going fast and being aggressive," Johnson was quoted in the article "The Soul of a Champion". "Well, I realized that night in the desert that I needed to be smarter. I still needed to push the car, but also I needed to bring it home clean. I needed to find that balance, and I began to find it that night in Mexico."
This incident in Mexico began Johnson’s true journey to the champion he is known as today.
His journey to stock car racing truly began, though, when Johnson had moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to live with then two-time Craftsmen Truck Series Champion Ron Hornaday Jr.
Also living at the house was fellow Californian Kevin Harvick. Jimmie, at the time, could not pay rent money so he did chores and cooked his specialty, barbequed shrimp tacos, for those living there at the time.
"Jimmie was a clean-cut kid who just wanted to race," Hornaday explained in the article "The Soul of a Champion". "He was the kind of kid you wanted to help out." Hornaday did exactly that.
Hornaday told fellow NASCAR owners and friends about Johnson, eventually landing Johnson a ride in the American Speed Association (ASA) Late Model division. Johnson went on to win rookie of the year in 1998, propelling him to the Busch Series in 1999.
The biggest stepping stone though was when he went to four-time cup champion Jeff Gordon for advice. Gordon noticed Johnson’s desire and passed the name over to his boss Rick Hendrick.
"I just found out that his contract is up soon, and he is shopping around for a ride," Gordon said. "When I heard that I ran and grabbed him and said, 'Don't sign anything with anyone until you talk to me first!' He's going to be the next big thing."
The result was Johnson getting a Cup ride in the new No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, co-owned by Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick.
Jimmie Johnson began racing at the Cup level in 2002, where potential was seen right away. He won his first race at California Speedway in the Auto Club 500 and finished fifth in points, which was not normal at all for a rookie.
In most cases, rookies of this caliber would be recognized, yet all Johnson found himself known as was Gordon's protégé.
However, four years later, as the series back-to-back champion, he had his boss/teammate stunned at what he had accomplished. "I had no idea that Jimmie would develop into a champion," Gordon said in the article "The Soul of a Champion".
"A lot of fans think everything has been handed to him on a silver platter because he’s so smooth, but they don’t understand his background. It’s made him hungry (for a championship)."
Of course his background and road to stardom was not the only thing that made him hungry; the disappointment he had to suffer through first promoted him to be even more determined to win the championship.
In 2003, Johnson finished fourth in points to Matt Kenseth. In 2004, he won four races in a row late in the season and tried to win the championship in honor of the 10 fallen heroes involved in a plane crash late in October.
He did not accomplish that feat, though, as he ended up finished second, nine points behind Kurt Busch. In 2005, he finished forth to Tony Stewart, due to a wreck in the final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
As co-owner Rick Hendrick said in the article "The Soul of a Champion", "It took some disappointment for Jimmie to get here, but he is matured, and now, as a racer, he is the whole package." That entire package finally began to come together in 2006.
Johnson showed right off the bat that he was the driver to beat winning the sport’s biggest race, the Daytona 500. Of course it all began to come together, thanks to some guidance from Gordon.
As we know, every bit of big success in Nextel Cup comes thanks to a good driver and crew chief combination. Hendrick saw that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus had some issues and needed some guidance.
Johnson’s description of it states the fact that they both wanted it so bad that they were "butting heads in the process." So Hendrick pulled them into his office, ready to discuss things between them and if needed, separate them.
"It was getting to the point where Chad and Jimmie were having more bad days than good days," Hendrick said. "I called them into my office ... and said 'If we're going to act like kids, we're going to have cookies and milk and we'll have some down time where we can talk about what you don't like about each."
"The meeting was supposed to be how we split the guys up," Hendrick said. "But in this meeting, these guys really put their heart on the table and they talked specifically about what they didn't like. Instead of holding it in, they were able to become closer friends and still respect each other's professional position in the team.
"I'm real proud of them because I would have bet money that we couldn't fix it. I think both of those guys would be successful in their own right, but I think they're stronger together."
"It took a lot of effort on each other's parts," Knaus later on said in a different article. "At that point, we were both tired and very frustrated. We were on the cusp on winning a championship for the first three years and we weren't able to pull it off. Expectations were high. We weren't able to deliver. There's a lot to wanting to deliver for Rick and Jimmie and I felt that I laid down a little. I didn't make the right decisions.
"It takes maturity, wisdom and you have to learn. We learned over a period of time. You have to go over life experiences and race car experiences to get what you really need. There was a point there that we had to make a decision whether we wanted to do this or not.
"We just had to learn to rededicate ourselves to the cause—and that's what we did." This conversation with Rick helped their relationship a lot, allowing them to now be the driver-crew chief pair to beat.
"Jimmie and Chad have something very, very special together," Gordon said in the article "One More with Feeling." "I know everything that goes into their cars and everything about their set-ups, and they’re still beating us. It’s frustrating but you’ve got to give them credit. They’re the best right now."
"My relationship with Chad has been unlike any relationship I've had before with a crew chief," Johnson stated in November of 2008. "We're close in age, which is a first for me, and we share a lot of things in common. We have two completely different personalities, and his strengths fit my weaknesses and my strengths fit his weaknesses. So I think the pairing of us both has been really good."
The strength of their relationship, plus Knaus' desire, are two of the keys to that make them as good as they are. Knaus' desire was seen even before he became the crew chief was Johnson; it was shown to Phillippe Lopez when Knaus worked for Stanley Smith as a shop-foreman.
"Chad wasn't there for the check," Lopez said. "He wasn't there for the glory. He was a racer. He did everything the right way. Nothing was half-assed. But you knew right away he had big dreams. He told me he wanted my job. He wasn't kidding.
"But he would do whatever it took to make himself better. He was great with working on bodies and Bondo (putty used in fabrication), but he wanted to learn about shocks. He was consumed with learning about it, mastering it and then doing it better.
"It wasn't unusual for me to have to tell Chad at two or three in the morning that it was time to go home." This desire to win that Knaus has became evident to Johnson when they were teamed up together.
"I think it's a fear of losing that motivates him more than anything," Johnson said. "He is more motivated by dominating, in a sense. We'll have what we consider the best car in practice and look at lap tracker and we might have a tenth on the field and he's like, 'We need more.' That's just his mindset. It's more, more, more. We've got to be better. We've got to be better.
"I feel that he's afraid of losing. When he loses, something goes on in his head and I don't know if it comes from being a kid and racing and working his way up through the ranks or watching his dad race or whatever, but there's something there that he is afraid of losing. And that's why when he wins, he's kind of chilled and relaxed because it satisfies what that fire is inside of him."
"I don't want to lose," Knaus said. "I don't. There's some validity to that. Everybody wants to be good at something and this is what I want to be good at. I don't want to let anybody down. I've not had a lot of other stable things in my life and the race car has always been there."
This magic that they share was shown to the entire NASCAR Nation in the regular season, winning four races, eight top fives, and 18 top tens. They also captured the biggest non-points race of the season, the Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe’s Motor Speedway (Charlotte).
They also showed they could bounce back from trouble by winning the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after restarting eighth with 14 to go, due to a flat tire. All in all, they went into the final 10 races, the Chase for the Championship, as the favourites.
Though as the Chase started, things did not look pretty as he finished 39th in the first race at New Hampshire. His father Gary then called Johnson that night and told him, "Don’t worry, you’re a Johnson. We do everything the hard way."
Though Jimmie’s hole to climb out of got bigger as three weeks later at Talladega Superspeedway, he was running second on the last lap when his own teammate, at the time, Brian Vickers wrecked him.
Instead of finishing second, he finished 24th. Hendrick sensed something was up again and pulled Johnson and Knaus into a private meeting two days after Talladega.
"Just have fun and don’t worry about the points," Hendrick’s advice to them was, as quoted in the article "The Soul of a Champion". "The pressure is off." Even with that talk, Johnson’s wife Chandra took a different approach.
Chandra had been trying to get Jimmie to go golfing with his friends. Well, she thought it’d be a good way to let him get away from his Chase frustrations, as Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s Vice President of Communications, says in the article "Jimmie Johnson: Golfing His Way to a Title."
"A lot of these guys like to really let it rip, taking out their frustration on the ball, and in golf, you can hit a bad shot and cuss and there’s no one to fine you. I think they like that."
So during the 2006 Chase, Chandra took it into her own hands and bought him golf lessons.
"He took the lessons and really got into it," she said in the article "Jimmie Johnson: Golfing His Way to a Title." "He started playing every week. I think that completely mellowed him and really helped him stop obsessing over what was going on."
"Swinging my heart out and knocking the snot out of that white ball did a lot to keep me settled and focused." Johnson added in that article.
Though Chandra helping Johnson concentrate is nothing new, as she’s helped him with that throughout part of his racing career by being there by his side.
"My best attribute as a driver is my focus, my level of concentration, and having Chandi in my life allows me to not worry about things outside of racing when I walk through the gates each weekend," Johnson said in Sports Illustrated. "This sounds corny, but Chandi and I are teammates. We're in love, and she gives me total peace of mind."
Chandra Janway grew up in Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma from 1996-2000. She then moved to New York to become a model and met Johnson in 2002 through Johnson’s teammate and co-owner, Jeff Gordon.
Already establishing herself as a model in New York, Chandra decided to put her career aside to be by Johnson’s side each weekend. Then in December 2003, while on a snowboarding trip to Colorado, Johnson proposed to her on top of a mountain and then on Dec. 11, 2004, they were married on the Caribbean Island of St. Barts.
With Johnson settled and focused, he began one of the best championship charges in series history. He finished in the top three in the next five races to go from being a 153 points behind to a 63-point lead.
The final race wasn’t all a pretty story as the Lowes team fought through a flat tire and barely missed some wrecks, but they came out on top, finally. The perfect California kid on the outside had done it.
Though at the final race, he didn’t keep his perfect image, as he did shed some tears. Now, could he go back-to-back?
Well, the road to the second championship started with a motivational speech from co-owner Rick Hendrick. "If we keep working at it, we can win the championship again this year," Hendrick told his employees in January 2007 as quoted in the article "Jimmie Stands Alone."
"Nobody has the talent and depth that we have in this room. Let’s just stay focused on what’s important and that’s bringing home another trophy."
Though when the season started, it looked like it would be Jeff Gordon as the Lowe's team endured some bad luck, including a scary wreck at Indianapolis in August. Though they hit their stride in September right before the Chase, winning two races in a row.
"We’re happy to be hitting our stride at this point in the season," Johnson said following his Richmond win right before the Chase, as quoted in the article "Rocking and Rolling." "As everybody knows, it was a little bit of a tough summer for us. But everything is working right now."
The Lowe's team took off in the Chase, proving they were deserving of the title. They dominated, winning the final four races leading up to the season finale. They were so dominant that Gordon was throwing up the surrender flag.
"It’s over," Gordon said following the second last race at Phoenix, as quoted in the article "Unstoppable." "Even if we win it, it’s because they have problems. While we would accept it, we don’t want to do it that way. Those guys flat-out killed everybody. We didn’t step-up when we needed to. We gave them a run for awhile."
Jimmie finished off the season finishing seventh in the final race to win back-to-back championships, the first person to do it since Jeff Gordon in 1997-1998. Now, can he be the second person ever in series history to win three in a row? Well, only the new season can tell, but all the critics are thinking he’ll do it.
"There’s no telling," Johnson said during Champion’s Week in December 2007, as quoted in the article "Rolling with the Changes". "These guys are going to work all through the winter to catch up. And I really feel there are a lot of teams who are right there."
The 2008 started with the No. 48 team struggling, as they finished 27th in the Daytona 500 & 29th in the UAW Dodge-Dealers 400. At first, it didn’t look as if it’d be a storybook year to create the dynasty, and that was to blame due to the year before.
While other teams were working towards their car-of-tomorrow programs after being left out of the Chase, the 48 team was still concentrating on their program for last year due to fighting for the title against teammate Jeff Gordon and others.
This equalled them being behind at the beginning of the year, except for Martinsville where they did come out on top. But they wouldn’t be down and out for long as Johnson, Knaus and the entire team would work hard testing to gain back their advantage.
The result was them hitting their stride as it got closer to the chase, showcasing they weren’t down and out, yet. They came to win at Indy, and the final 2 races before the chase leaving a stance that they’d be the top dog in the Chase.
As Darrell Waltrip says, this is the strategy for this era with how the chase points system is put together and a good way of doing it.
"The way you win championships in the Chase era is to use the first 26 races to get ready for the last 10, and Jimmie and Chad do that better than anyone else," says Waltrip, the three-time Cup winner who now calls the races for Fox. "They have as much engineering support at Hendrick Motorsports as anyone in the sport. Heck, I don't see why they can't win a fourth straight championship next season."
Once in the chase, the 48 team went on a terror completing the chase with 3 wins and a 5.7 average finish. One of the most important races of the 2008 chase, though, was at Atlanta.
With a couple laps to go, Jimmie was sitting in 11th and didn’t look as if he’d finish that strong. Knowing that they couldn’t let Carl Edwards run off the win and gain a whole scale of points, Chad pulled off a surprise call.
He called Johnson down to pit road for four tires. The result was Johnson finishing second, just a couple seconds behind Edwards, therefore only allowing Edwards to gain 10 points. This race right there showed their greatness as it showed they were one of the best teams ever out there.
"The great ones, they don't have bad days," Junior Johnson said in late October of 2008. "You can take a bad day and turn it into something, get those points even when you didn't have any business getting them. That's what Jimmie Johnson's team does, and they do it better than anybody that's come along in a long, long time."
Though on their way to championship stardom, they also managed to escape the bad luck that bit other teams. The Texas race could’ve been lower as at the beginning, they were falling behind quickly, looking as if they’d finish back in the thirties.
"We're in trouble, boys," Johnson said over the radio a couple laps in. "We f---ing killed it."
"We'll get it back." Knaus assured him and slowly but surely, they made adjustments on the car to manage a 15th place finish.
They then went in Phoenix, ready to bounce back from what happened and show that they were going to win the championship. They started the weekend off really well, winning the pole, though they struggled in practice, only placing 16th in Happy Hour.
Both driver and crew chief stayed up late, going through their notes trying to figure something out. The pressure of the chase and performing well to match Edwards started to get to Johnson as he began to bug his crew chief.
At 8 in the morning on Sunday when the garage opened, Johnson called Knaus wanting to know how things were going and Knaus responded, "Dude, let me get to work." Johnson the phoned back approximately 15 minutes later and asked Knaus again. Knaus, not being in the mood to talk and just wanting to get to work told Jimmie to get right back to bed.
"Well, dammit, make me feel better about what's going to happen today." was Johnson's response. The result of them going through their notes and discussing was good as they went on to dominate the race, allowing them to head into the final race only needing to finish 36th or better to win the championship.
Knaus played the race smart, making sure to make calls that would help them, and in the end they won their third championship in a row. Jimmie is now only the second driver to be able to do it, 30 years later than Cale Yarborough’s three titles in 1976, 1977, and 1978.
"It hasn't sunken in yet," Johnson said after the race. "But I'm just so proud of this race team and the fight that this team has had in it over the course of the year. There were times this season when we weren't even in the ballpark, but these guys buckled down and worked hard. I'm so proud of this team effort. I mean, how cool. I mean growing up in El Cajon, Calif., racing motocross, I never thought I'd be in this position."
It also allowed Knaus to become the first-ever crew chief to win three titles in a row.
"This team is absolutely awesome," Knaus said after the race. "This team is just great and Jimmie is a fantastic driver and Mr. (Rick) Hendrick is a great person to work for. All 500 people we've got at Hendrick Motorsports, from the engine shop to the chassis shop, aviation, travel people, they just all do such an incredible job and put their hearts and souls into what we do to make these cars go fast."
Lastly, it gave Hendrick his eighth title, and when putting it in perspective, Hendrick said, "I never thought I’d even get one."
For right now though with their dominance, nobody can argue that Johnson is not a good champion to represent the sport. For starters, he created his own foundation to benefit those who are unfortunate.
"At first, Chandra and I want to do things to benefit communities that mean a lot to us, the places we were raised," Johnson explained in the article "Doing Good." "Southern California for me, Oklahoma for Chandra, and Charlotte, where we currently live." The idea behind the Jimmie Johnson Foundation is to build houses for those living in not so good conditions.
Though another reason that Johnson can truly represent the image of the sport well as the champion is he respects the road he took to get where he is, and he respects his fellow competitors.
"I think to be a good champion you need to be (it sounds crazy) but you need to be proud of what you’ve done and carry yourself with that pride and let people see that excitement and all that comes with that and how you act through it," Johnson said in December 2007 as part of his profile in "Sporting News NASCAR 2008 Preview."
"The cool thing about our sport, there are all types of personalities. Jeff’s a curtain way, Junior, myself, Stewart, Kenseth, we’re all different. There is no way to really say one way is the right way.
Of course there are some that don’t like him for who he is on the surface, but that’s something that’s unimportant to Jimmie right now.
"It used to keep me up at night," Johnson said in Sports Illustrated, "but not anymore. I can't think about all that. I just want to win another championship." This is something that sort of started at the beginning of his career, due to how big he was in star quality.
"When I started racing, I didn't have much going for me, other than that I could say all the right things—almost to a fault," Johnson says. "I can be freaking out inside, but then I open my mouth and I sound calm. I don't know where this device comes from. It helps me in racing because you never want to lose your cool, but it's also probably kept people from getting to know the real me."
As Johnson says in another article, "I'm not one that's going to sit up at night and say, `Wow, I need to be the funny guy or I need to be `The Intimidator' or I need to do back flips. I'm just doing my thing.'' But part of this clean side to him helps in regards to the racing side, including sports’ psychologist.
"Jimmie has the ability to handle multiple thoughts at the same time like no one else in NASCAR," says Jack Stark, a sports psychologist who has worked with more than a dozen NASCAR drivers, including Johnson, as well as with hundreds of players in college football and the NFL.
"On the track, he juggles where he's going, where he needs to be, what he's feeling in the car and how he needs to express that to his crew chief so the right changes can be made to the car at the next pit stop. Most guys can't stay focused for the full four hours of a race, but Jimmie can. He's like Peyton Manning in that they both have problem-solving minds.
"Plus—and this is a big reason why Jimmie has been successful—he's a genuinely nice guy, and his crew feels a great sense of loyalty to him. Ron Malec, his car chief, could go anywhere and double his salary, but Ron stays because Jimmie cares about other people.
"They basically have no turnover on that team. And, of course, it helps to have a crew chief like Chad Knaus." Maybe Johnson is just quiet as he wants to stay concentrated on his goal.
"How did all these people get credentialed to be down here on the grid right now?" he said, referring to the dozens of guests, family members, photographers and hangers-on that mill around the racecars right up until engines are started.
"Get away, let me get in the car and do my job. Then finally the national anthem is over, and I get in the car, and I'm like, 'Whew, put the net up so they can't take pictures, either.' And then you go to work."
Of course in the midst of all the media, don’t think he’s Mr. Perfection as he does have his fun times like the rest of us. According to his boss, Rick Hendrick, "He's (a) fun-loving guy who plays as hard as he races."
One day when hanging out with one of his closest friends Noah Lazes, Johnson called up Lazes, asking him if he wanted to go watch some football games. Oh, and not just one game.
No, his words to Lazes were, "Two guys, two games, one airplane and a bottle of Goose. Let's go!" Of course the other fun story that everybody remembers about Johnson showing his true side was when he decided he’d golf-cart surf.
Having fun with friends at a golf course and encouraged by friends, Johnson decided he’d surf on top of a golf-cart, though when the driver took a sharp turn, Johnson fell off therefore breaking his wrist.
His comments on that day were, "I wasn’t out of character that day." Or there’s the story where he took his friend Marcus Gilles on a ride-along at Atlanta Motor Speedway which ended in burn-out marks all across the freshly painted paint for the sponsor logos, to the ire of track owner Ed Clark.
In Johnson’s words, "I can be a jackass. I sometimes wish people could hear the voices in my head because there's some crazy-ass s— in my brain." According to Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Marshall Carlson, this loose side of Jimmie doesn’t come off due to his focus and intensity that he keeps at the track.
His wife Chandra adds, "When he's at the racetrack he's business. He's there to win, not there to entertain." Though a lot of this can be reflected upon his off-road background where he had to learn to concentrate through a wide variety of conditions.
"Jimmie's just an uncomplicated guy," Howes says. "He's able to separate things out and turn off all the other noise inside the car. He's very good at adapting, and I think that's from off-road. He's dealt with racing in wind, mud, snow and rain, and he's in such good shape physically, his brain can handle those outside influences even as he's getting fatigued." Though with that intensity and focus, plus the calm side to him, it allows to him stay calm in the car in the heat of battle, as according to Rick Hendrick.
"Jimmie is actually calmer in the heat of battle inside the car describing things like a professor in an Engineering 101 class. I've never seen anyone that sharp." Rick comments. Though Johnson’s calmness is a good thing as it helps in keeping the team calm, therefore helping them all keep their focus. But in times, its hard to swallow that as more people would like him to bring out this personality more so at the track.
""It's unfortunate, and I talk to Jimmie about this all the time," Johnson's teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm in a different situation, and I tell him, 'Man, you know if you would just act like you act to me and other people you know really well, if you were just like that all day long at the racetrack and in front of the camera and to the media and just in general, people would really see what type of guy you are.
"Most of you guys [in the media] know Jimmie. He's really cool, he's really a good guy, and he's got a great attitude. He's never acted like a fool. He's never thrown a tantrum per se, and he's never said anything really out of context. He's just always held his head on real straight and he's a great person. He does a lot of things.
"He'd give his shirt off his back to you if you needed it. He treats me that way, anyway. See, I've always been able to say whatever I wanted to say and act however I wanted to act. When I tell Jimmie, 'You ought to be more like that, more open and just be yourself,' he says, 'I can't do that like you can do it,' and I don't really understand why as much as they understand why.
"I really feel like it's unfortunate that Jimmie isn't able or hasn't been able to get his personality truly across to the fan to where they knew exactly what type of person he was."
So as I’ve shown you here, it all goes back to the saying: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Just because he seems to be have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it may not be the case. Just because he seems to be Mr. Perfect each day to you doesn’t mean he truly is underneath it all.
Though even if this hasn’t changed your perspective, in the long run it all doesn’t matter as those that like Johnson continue to, and Johnson, well he’ll just keep winning races.
"My story has been out there about how hard I've worked to get here," Jimmie said in the beginning of November 2008. "And the simple upbringing that I had in El Cajon, Calif., and how far away NASCAR was. That story is still out there and it's a story I'm very proud of.
"But today, man, I'm trying to race and win races and win championships. If people want to go back and look at that stuff and see the stories, then fantastic, because I feel I have a great story.
"But I can't spend my whole career trying to say, 'Hey, you need to respect me and you need to look at my upbringing because you might be a bigger fan of mine.' I've just got to go out and do my job and race hard. So that's my perspective on it."
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