<
>

Show of respect from peers is what Jimmie Johnson will remember

Host Jay Mohr kept things serious when congratulating Jimmie Johnson on his seventh Sprint Cup championship Friday night in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- Jimmie Johnson didn't need to see highlights of his seventh Sprint Cup championship celebration at Homestead-Miami Speedway to tug at his heart during the 2016 awards banquet Friday night.

He has a pretty good idea of all that happened.

"In a certain way I guess I kind of lived it, so I have the fond memories," Johnson said. "But I will go back and look at that stuff at some point. I really haven't had any time to."

For Johnson, it was more about what was said than what he saw during the ceremony at the Wynn Las Vegas that celebrated his record-tying seventh Cup title and a season where he notched his 80th career win. With his name now alongside Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as far as number of championships, Johnson is a pro at giving the speeches and hearing people talk about him.

But it seems that each year, the inflection in the voices of other drivers more and more show their deep respect.

"The respect that was paid to me through competitors -- they've got to be tired to see my ass up on the stage," Johnson said after the ceremony. "To have them say nice things and to know it was really coming from the heart and not just lip service was really cool."

Driver after driver talked about Johnson's greatness. The lauding came from even others, including 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.

"This isn't just another night for our seven-time champion," Phelps said. "He set records and now stands alongside two legends. But for him, it's more than that. It's a personal glory and the reward for a lifetime of hard work. And for the rest of us, it's the knowledge that we just watched the greatest driver that ever lived."

Johnson didn't know Phelps -- a Gatorade endorser along with Johnson -- would come. Just 11 days earlier, Johnson had presented Phelps with an award at USA Swimming's annual event.

"That was a complete and total shock," Johnson said.

If anyone should be used to pleasurable shocks, it's Johnson. He got one nearly two weeks earlier at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In some ways, his victory in the season finale at Homestead was a shock as Johnson didn't have the strongest car but took advantage of a Carl Edwards-Joey Logano wreck and then a great restart in the waning laps.

Before the banquet, Johnson had said he had not seen many highlights because he was just so busy. Through social media, he did have an idea of how it all went down.

"Obviously, I watched the first half of the crash [from behind]," Johnson said. "I saw a clip on Twitter where the 78 [of Martin Truex Jr.] was just raging on fire, which I didn't think was possible in today's world with our cars but that's really about all I saw."

Johnson had seen - on Twitter - that Edwards had gone up on the Logano pit box to wish the team luck.

"I want to see -- I imagine Carl did an interview," Johnson said. "I saw some footage where he walked up on the 22 box and shook their hand, the message being delivered to Joey himself.

"I thought that was really cool. It was so cool I sent Carl a text and just like, 'Man, way to handle yourself.' I've seen bits and pieces. I guess I haven't been dying to see it because I've seen enough through 140 characters and 18 seconds of Vine or whatever it ends up being, you've got to piece it together."

After the banquet, Johnson said he was surprised to see just how hard a hit Edwards had in that accident.

But the other highlights? It was soaking in the words, not the photos.

"That was insane," Johnson said. "A lot of moments, it just kept building. ... It was a great experience."

If there was any disappointment for Johnson, it was that host and Johnson friend Jay Mohr didn't rip on him. Mohr just gave Johnson a hug and said how much he liked him.

"As your friend, I'm so proud of you," Mohr said.

Johnson said he tried to egg on Mohr, but Mohr kept to the script.

"He can be really funny and is really funny," Johnson said. "He chose a more emotional route and paid me a ton of respect, and I was like, 'You [wuss]. Tough it up and come after me.' "

It is likely few will blame Mohr as much as Johnson. They know Johnson earned that hug.

"I just think it's so refreshing to see someone that humble that that's good and doesn't have to be cocky, doesn't have to prove anything," team owner Rick Hendrick said of Johnson. "He just goes out and does his job."