Johnson humble, thankful in NASCAR Banquet speech

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Jimmie Johnson accepted his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at the season-ending Awards Ceremony with humility, class and thanks for his predecessors and the people around him that push him to be better.

In opening, Johnson tried to draw off his peers with at least that many titles, the pair of legendary seven-time champions Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. Unfortunately for Johnson, Petty’s wasn’t televised, and Earnhardt’s “didn’t have much there,” because “he was as nervous as the rest of us on this stage.”

From there, the usual expressions of thanks to the Hendrick Motorsports organization, crew led by crew chief Chad Knaus, all sponsors and partners and to Chevrolet were part of his seven-minute long address.

“These people have all molded me into the person and driver I am today,” Johnson admitted. “That includes all the drivers that I’ve worn out asking questions. Teammates, family and friends.”

But where Johnson’s emotion shone through came toward the end of the speech, in thanks to his wife Chandra and family for their support during the season. Prior to the Richmond regular season finale, Johnson’s second daughter Lydia was born, joining older daughter Genevieve.

“This year was clearly a huge year on track, but personally it was so much more,” he said. “Genevieve is now 3 and a half, and Lydia was born a week before the Chase started. Being a parent is the best thing.

“We had a lot going on the last 10 weeks. The glue that kept it all together is my wife Channy. I couldn’t have done without you, but don’t get teary eyed and make me get teary eyed please!”

Johnson closed with a quote from the late Nelson Mandela, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 95.

“It’s from the late Nelson Mandela in 2006: Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. The power to unite people in a way little else does,” he said.

Johnson’s a powerful force on track, but he also carries the humility and class you want from a champion.  A fitting touch to the end of the year, really.

You can see Johnson’s speech and the rest of the top 10 from last night’s banquet in this link from NASCAR.com.

MRTI: Barber Recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The weekend at Barber Motorsports Park for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was a tale of two completely different days.

Saturday was a picturesque Spring day for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, with bright sunshine and temperatures above 70 degrees. Sunday, however, was much cooler and wetter, with rain hitting both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races.

Still, the packed weekend for both series produced plenty of drama, and each now sees its championship picture beginning to take shape.

Major stories to surface from the weekend at Barber for both series are below.

Indy Lights

  • Pato O’Ward has been, by a considerable margin, the fastest driver after four races in 2018. A winner of three races – which easily could be four if not for a mistake while leading Race 2 in St. Petersburg – and a polesitter for two, O’Ward has asserted himself as the early-season man to beat in the title chase, leading Santi Urrutia with 110 points to 94. O’Ward already has big-league championship to his name – he was a co-champion of the Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship last year, and he is poised to add to that in 2018.
  • Victor Franzoni is starting to get his arms around the IL-15. Last year’s Pro Mazda champion gets better with every race, and he earned his first Indy Lights podium in Race 2 at Barber, finishing second. It would hardly be a surprise if Franzoni breaks into the win column soon.
  • Aaron Telitz’s run of hard luck continued in Race 1 on Saturday, as he was collected by a spinning Dalton Kellett and retired from the race with a damaged right-front. That meant through three races, Telitz had completed a combined four corners. Race 2 finally produced a clean day for the 2016 Pro Mazda champion, as he ran all the laps on his way to finishing fourth.
  • Colton Herta scored a double-podium at Barber, with finishes of second and third. Sitting on 83 points, he is 19 back of leader O’Ward. He’ll need to break into the win column to make up ground, but consistently finishing on the podium will also help his efforts, and prevent O’Ward from making big leaps away from him.

Pro Mazda

  • Although he might be disappointed to miss out on sweeping the weekend, Parker Thompson has lots of reasons to smile leaving Barber, as he overtook Rinus VeeKay for the championship lead by four points, 102 to 98. Thompson has had two strong weekends to open the Pro Mazda season, with finishes of second, fifth, first, and second after four races. He and VeeKay have emerged as possible title combatants after the opening two weekends.
  • Speaking of VeeKay, the 17-year-old Dutchman had a quiet weekend at Barber, with finishes of fourth and fifth after lacking pace in qualifying – he qualified seventh and ninth for Race 1 and Race 2. After dominating at St. Pete, VeeKay’s lack of pace was somewhat puzzling, though it could be indicative of a Pro Mazda field that is deep with talent. Expect him to rebound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May.
  • Oliver Askew’s troublesome start to the 2018 season only got worse at Barber, with finishes of seventh and 12th on a weekend in which he never factored into the outcome. The struggles of him and Cape Motorsports is mystifying given their prowess in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on their way to winning the championship last year. Getting into championship contention at this point is a tall task – he is 46 points behind Thompson – but righting the ship will be priority No. 1 for him and Cape heading to Indianapolis.
  • Harrison Scott enjoyed a great rebound after struggling in St. Pete, where he finished ninth and 12th. He took his first Pro Mazda podium in Race 1, finishing second, and then survived a chaotic and rainy Race 2 to take his first victory. The successful weekend also vaulted him into fourth in the championship.
  • David Malukas has also put together a solid season through four races, with finishes of seventh, second, third, and fifth. The BN Racing driver sits third in the championship, and may well end up challenging for race wins soon.

All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course during the weekend of the INDYCAR Grand Prix (May 11-12), with USF2000 returning after a two-month break following the season opener in St. Petersburg.

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