Jimmie Johnson earns sixth NMPA Richard Petty Driver of the Year award

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CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson may be getting ready to pursue a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship in a couple of weeks, but honors continue to roll in for what he accomplished in 2013, namely earning his sixth Cup title  in eight seasons.

Johnson received his sixth Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award Sunday night from the National Motorsports Press Association as it wrapped up its annual two-day convention in suburban Charlotte prior to Charlotte Motor Speedway preparing to host the 32nd annual NASCAR Media Tour. The four-day Tour kicks off Monday.

Johnson was unable to attend the ceremony due to another commitment, but prepared a video thanking the NMPA for the award.

Later, when the award was announced on Twitter, Johnson responded almost immediately with his own tweet, saying simply and humbly, “Such an honor.”

Former NASCAR racer Rick Mast also congratulated Johnson via the Twittersphere, writing, “Don’t say this often. Very deserving my man. Not everyone understands what RP did for this sport.”

Also honored Sunday was the late Marcy Scott, former Director of Media Relations and Marketing of Atlanta Speedway, who received the prestigious Ken Patterson Helping Others Award as well as the 2014 NMPA Spirit Award. Scott passed away recently after a lengthy battle with cancer.

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994