A worldwide household name, Johnson has reached remarkable feats in the racing world. This weekend could represent a pinnacle in his racing career, as he runs for his seventh championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the opportunity to tie the great Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most all-time Sprint Cup Series championships within reach.
But "Six-Time" wasn't always that way: Former Hendrick Motorsports teammate and No. 48 car owner Jeff Gordon recalls when Johnson wasn't a world champion, a race winner or even a Sprint Cup Series driver.
He was just Jimmie.
Gordon remembers a tremendously fast, red, white and blue car that took the track at an XFINITY test at Darlington Raceway back in 2000.
"I was helping Ricky Hendrick -- (team owner) Rick (Hendrick’s) son -- who was getting in the XFINITY Series and wanted to run a few races and Darlington was one of the races on that schedule," Gordon told NASCAR.com on Thursday. "… So, I went down to Darlington for a day of XFINITY testing and I remember going out there on top of a truck … and a car was out there -- it was a red, white and blue car. Really had a nice line, carrying a lot of speed, right up next to the wall. You know, Darlington's a very intimidating track and usually it takes not just a lot of skill but experience to understand the track."
Gordon complimented the driver's style, telling Hendrick "that's pretty much how you need to do it." Then he asked who the driver was.
"Jimmie Johnson," Gordon recalls Hendrick answering.
With his seemingly experienced motor skills, Gordon wondered how many times Johnson had raced at "The Track Too Tough to Tame." Hendrick surprised Gordon by telling him he thought it was his first time.
Gordon wanted to meet him.
"I remember going down to the garage and Jimmie was sitting in his car and I went over there to him and said, 'Hey, what's up, how are you?' and introduced myself," Gordon said. "I said, 'So, have you ever been here to Darlington before?' And he said, 'Nope, today's the first time I ever saw the place.' "That to me in itself kind of floored me -- it looked like he had been there for years; tremendous speed," Gordon admitted. "So, I started watching him from that point forward.
"… To me, (he) was an overachiever for the team and the equipment."
Jimmie Johnson: A 24-year-old "overachiever" without a future ride, Sprint Cup win or championship to his name.
Sounds about right for someone who would...
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