RICHMOND, Va. Jimmie Johnson is headed to uncharted territory.
There isn’t much the six-time Sprint Cup Series champion hasn’t accomplished in his distinguished NASCAR career but he is set this weekend to attempt one of the most unique doubles in racing.
Saturday night, Johnson will compete in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, an event that under the best conditions will see Johnson arrive at his Charlotte home in the early morning hours of Sunday.
Then at 9 a.m. Sunday on the Newell-Rubbermaid campus in Huntersville, Johnson has committed to compete in the Jimmie Johnson Foundation 5k, one of four events of a new “Wellness Challenge” Johnson’s foundation is undertaking this season.
Should Johnson win Saturday night and pick up his first Cup series victory of the season, the quick turnaround won’t likely seem as much of an inconvenience.
Yet even if Saturday night’s race doesn’t go as he hopes – and that’s happened far more times in Johnson’s career at this track than he would like – the run is likely the best place for him.
While Johnson, 38, has become far more conscious in recent seasons of remaining in good physical health, he has also found it as an avenue of escape.
“Along the journey of training and trying to pay attention to fitness I’ve found yes, it does make me stronger physically, but it’s been so good for me mentally, especially with my day job,” Johnson told the Observer.
“It’s a great release. It’s a great way to spend time thinking about my job and I always come home inspired from a swim, bike or run – I do pretty long distances now in all three.
“It’s quiet time where I am able to get my thoughts in order – the racing side, personal side, business side, all of those things. I’ve found it’s a very good outlet for me.”
Few in NASCAR history have been as successful as Johnson and he isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. The ability of Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, to overcome adversity or problems during races has played a large role in that success.
Once Johnson became deeply committed to fitness, he said he was surprised to find the mental challenge a familiar one.
“I’ve always found a way or an approach on how to get through things in a race car – whether it’s finding a different line on the race track or waiting for the next pit stop,” Johnson said.
“It’s been the same mental involvement in these triathlons or swims, bikes or runs. When you’re suffering, you find a way to work through that – it’s so easy to just kind of give up on a swim, bike or run and you say, ‘OK, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got.’
“Working through that suffering is much like working through problems in a race.”
Johnson’s dedication to fitness in recent years has produced results just as impressive as those on the track. His diet and training program was highlighted in Men’s Fitness magazine.
His fascination with his fitness came from pure curiosity. “I was watching a triathlon on TV one day and said, ‘I wonder why people would do something like that,’ ” Johnson said. “Then I wondered if I could do that.”
Now, he’s found a way to share his passion.
While the Charlotte area has benefited from Johnson’s foundation through its education grants, this is the first time the foundation has conducted fundraising in the Charlotte area.
When it came time for Johnson and his wife, Chandra, to pick the fundraising activity, they quickly gravitated to physical fitness.
“Keeping people healthy is so important. I think the Wellness Challenge is a great opportunity for people to come out and train or run for fun,” Johnson said. “We just want people to be aware, fit and healthy.”
Johnson’s plans are to compete personally in three of the four challenge events, beginning Sunday morning – tired or not.
“With my fitness focus, it’s really easy for me to put on some running shoes even though I’ll be exhausted after a long night of racing,” he said. “It may not be my fastest 5k, but I’ll get out there and run with everybody.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.
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