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Day Four: Johnson Returns To Head Table After Two-Year Absence
For Johnson, Champion’s Week™ has been an enjoyable one – and perhaps his best since he captured his first championship in 2006 to begin an unprecedented run of five consecutive titles.
“The streak, when it was alive, I didn’t realize how much pressure we were carrying on our shoulders. We almost didn’t get to enjoy the moment,” he said. “We were looking ahead to see what the next year would be.
“This (year) is almost a starting over. We’re just enjoying it for what it is.”
Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Lowe’s Chevrolet team’s streak of five titles ended in 2011 and they missed the title a year ago, but the now-38-year-old Californian smiled and applauded the achievements of Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski from the audience.
The two seasons away from the head table provided some of the impetus for what Johnson calls “a kick-butt year” in which he won six races. Two victories during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ were keys to Johnson emerging victorious from a dramatic and tension-filled battle with 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth.
“There’s nothing more motivating than sitting down on the floor and watching the head table receive all the things through the course of the night,” Johnson said. “We worked hard and came back and got it done this year.”
One championship away from matching the seven NASCAR Sprint Cup titles won by NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Johnson had hoped to reference some of the legends’ thoughts in making Friday night’s speech. He had no luck retrieving any of Petty’s remarks following his sixth title. The late Earnhardt’s speech in 1994 likewise wasn’t helpful.
“I expected to see some life-changing thing in there I could attach to my speech; some meaningful moment or whatever,” Johnson said of Earnhardt’s banquet performance. “He was just as nervous as the rest of us. He was rattled, got off the stage and walked away.
“I do recognize I’m in a very unique position (that) only two other men have been in. If I can find a way to mention that tonight, that’s my goal.”
The week’s highlights included the champion’s media tour, participation by all 13 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifiers in Wednesday’s Fanfest Presented by Las Vegas Motor Speedway held at the Fremont Street Experience and Thursday’s annual NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon during which Johnson received the Goodyear Tires Award and Sunoco Diamond Performance Award.
Thursday’s traditional Victory Lap during which NASCAR Sprint Cup stock cars performed burnouts on the famed Las Vegas Boulevard and NASCAR After the LapTM sponsored by Ford and Coca-Cola wrapped the lead-up to Friday night’s 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards™ hosted by comedian, actor and radio personality Jay Mohr at Wynn Las Vegas. FOX Sports 2 and www.NASCAR.com provide coverage beginning at 9 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET. The show will also re-air on FOX Sports 1 at noon ET on Dec. 8.