At 40, Jimmie Johnson says he’s not close to retiring from a NASCAR career that has seen him win six Sprint Cup championships and dominate the sport the way few drivers have.
That’s not to say Johnson doesn’t think about it sometimes, however, especially when two other of the sport’s icons – Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart – are on the verge of wrapping up their careers.
“When I feel like it’s time, then I will make that decision,” Johnson said recently. “Certainly I don’t feel like it’s time now.”
Gordon, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, will retire after this season. A certain future NASCAR Hall of Famer, Gordon, 44, has four championships and 92 victories and has been honored as he races at each track for a final time this season.
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Three-time champion Stewart, 44, announced last week he will retire from Cup racing after the 2016 season. He made a point of saying he didn’t want next season to serve as a farewell tour like Gordon’s has been.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with (Stewart) over the years and kind of sensed something was going to change, something was coming,” said Johnson, who was eliminated from this season’s Chase after finishing 41st at Dover (Del.) last week. “I’m really happy for him. The thought he has put into this, the way he is going about it, I’m excited for him because he’s excited about what’s next.
“It’s very similar with Jeff. It’s so hard to watch somebody you have looked up to and idolized step down or decide it’s time to do something different.”
Johnson said he has also paid attention to how other drivers handled their retirements, including Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. Jarrett retired in 2008 at age 51. Wallace stepped away in 2005 after a 26-year career at age 49. Martin raced in the Cup series for 31 years, retiring in 2013 at 54.
“I remember watching Rusty pick (an age) and then remember talking to (him) in years following that. I still think he’s mad he stopped. I still think he could be out here racing with us and winning races.
“Mark tried a half dozen times to retire and couldn’t walk away.”
Johnson, who just turned 40 in September, made his 500th career start last week at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. He said he has spoken with all those drivers about what went into their decisions. He said he will also make sure he has the full support of his wife, Chandra, as well.
“I have always been curious,” he said. “Why, when, what tells you to stop? I want to make sure I do it once and not keep coming back. What I am looking for is that moment. The moment that you say, ‘All right, it’s time.’ When that shows up, then I will step down.”