Jimmie Johnson shines during exhausting four-day Champion's Tour

NASCAR Wire Service Friday, Mar 01 1605


For Jimmie Johnson, winning the Daytona 500 was a piece of cake — compared with the four days that followed.

From green flag to checkered flag last Sunday, Johnson spent three hours, eight minutes and 23 seconds behind the wheel of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS.

Johnson spent the next 96-plus hours criss-crossing the United States, visiting eight different states and flying over perhaps a dozen more. The non-stop tour that started with the traditional Champion's Breakfast at Daytona International Speedway included an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" and ended with a visit to the Phoenix Coyotes-Minnesota Wild National Hockey League game in Glendale, Ariz.

The term "media blitz" doesn't adequately describe the grueling schedule that took Johnson completely out of his normal routine. From Daytona he flew to North Carolina and from there to Connecticut for appearances on ESPN.

The New York stint came Tuesday, with his day divided into 10-to-15 minute segments with an array of media outlets,. That night, after the Letterman taping, Johnson flew to Dallas for a series of media hits at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson flew to Los Angeles for more media appearances and a trip to Auto Club Speedway before leaving for Las Vegas and sales meeting for sponsor Lowe's that night.

Then it was back to L.A. for more media before flying to Phoenix for the hockey game on Thursday night. After dropping the ceremonial puck before the game, Johnson took questions from a crush of TV reporters in one of the sky boxes.

You can forgive Johnson for being a little frayed around the edges by the time the last interview at the hockey game was over.

"I'm so freaking tired," Johnson told the NASCAR Wire Service on the way out of Jobing.com Arena on Thursday night. "Last night we had our national sales meeting with Lowe's so we had 3,000 store managers in a huge, huge venue in Las Vegas.

"We had Faith Hill and Tim McGraw sing so I had a chance to have a little fun and see some great friends at Lowe's. Went and hit the tables a little bit. I'm tired, ready to shut it down."

Johnson is a creature of habit. Typically, his days are regimented, with time allocated for a rigorous workout regimen and consultation with crew chief Chad Knaus. The Champion's Tour, however, obliterated his normal schedule.

Understandably, he felt a bit behind the curve heading to Phoenix International Raceway on Friday morning.

"I haven't had a chance to train, do my team debrief, get prepped or our team prepped for this race," Johnson said. "Chad's cut me some slack, clearly, for obvious reasons, but it's weird to be completely out of your routine. I'm a routine guy."

Naturally enough, Johnson wouldn't trade places with the 42 other drivers who didn't win the Daytona 500, and he was gratified to sense the buzz that attached to his victory and to NASCAR racing in general.

"It was awesome," he said. "To be a part of all of it ... honestly, through the championships that I've won and the '06 500, there was always great excitement and buzz surrounding our sport attending these events. 

"But there was a buzz that I haven't seen before. I'm excited for our sport right now. There are a lot of great things going on. TMZ chased me down twice. Our sport is hopefully transitioning into mainstream, and the whole TMZ factor says that to me more than anything."

And how much of the buzz is attributable to the arrival of Danica Patrick as a full-time Sprint Cup driver?

"I don't know how much, but yes, absolutely (she is a factor)," Johnson said. "I think the Gen-6 car and the positive thoughts of the drivers, the owners, the manufacturers—there's a lot of momentum. 

"We were seeing some good momentum through the end of last year with the ad buys increasing on TV and all that. I don't know what's solely responsible for it, but I like it. It's a great shot in the arm for our sport."

Even though Chad Knaus was part of an official announcement at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson was so wrapped up in his media activities that he hadn't heard about changes to the format of the Sprint All-Star Race in May. Johnson is the defending champion of that event, too.

"I saw there was an extra million bucks (for winning all five segments)," he said.  "They're going to make me think to figure this out. Hopefully, I win."