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.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.