Jimmie Johnson once sent a heartfelt email to a star driver he never had met — until now


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When his Audi R18 slammed a guardrail at 185 mph and ricocheted across the track into another barrier in pitch-black darkness at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mike Rockenfeller never expected Jimmie Johnson to check on his well-being.

An ace European driver who had won Le Mans a year earlier, Rockenfeller certainly knew of Johnson – who in the racing world wouldn’t know the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion? – but he didn’t know him. They never had met, talked or had any form of contact.

Until an email from Jimmie Johnson landed in the German driver’s inbox immediately after Rockenfeller miraculously emerged unscathed from the horrifying wreck in France. It was “was so unexpected” because it was among the most sincere messages he ever received from another driver.

“To get that email from a legend like he is, it really meant a lot,” Rockenfeller, 37, told NBC Sports. “When I got it, I was so surprised. To me, that showed the mentality of America. The racing spirit they have here. Watching other categories, having the respect for each other. Obviously, it showed what kind of guy Jimmie is.

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HOW TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24Full broadcast schedule on NBC Sports

“I replied instantly, and he replied back, saying, ‘Oh, I’m watching this. I love Le Mans, it’s so cool what you guys are doing.’ ”

Jimmie Johnson Rockenfeller email
Mike Rockenfeller (right) talks with Simon Pagenaud behind Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief for seven championships (Brian Cleary/bcpix.com).

The story will have another unbelievable twist at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with the teaming of Johnson and Rockenfeller (who goes by “Rocky” in the paddock) on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Simon Pagenaud and Kamui Kobayashi.

Mike Rockenfeller and Jimmie Johnson talk during Rolex 24 at Daytona practice Thursday (Tina Theriault Strader).

This will be Johnson’s eighth start in the Rolex but his first in 10 years, and he said it was the kinship he discovered in sports cars that inspired the email to Rockenfeller.

“My time around endurance racing in the U.S. just showed me the community that exists here and really reminded me a lot of the way I grew up racing motocross,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “And I didn’t know Mike prior to sending that email, but when I saw the crash, it just struck me.

“I just could not believe that he survived that. And then knowing we had mutual friends, I was able to track down his address and send him an email just checking on him and saying hello and introducing myself.

“So to have this all now come full circle and share a car in the Rolex 24 is really cool for me for many reasons.”

Johnson is a little fuzzy on how he was able to obtain Rockenfeller’s contact information, but he believes it was through a Chevrolet connection. Though he occasionally does Twitter shoutouts to strangers, Johnson rarely sends emails sight unseen.

“Especially back then, that was pre-social media for me,” he said. “Racers admire from afar but rarely engage. We’re all kind of weird like that. So it was a little out of character for me to do that, but I’m very thankful that I did.”

When asked last Thursday at 2021 Rolex 24 Media Day, Rockenfeller still didn’t know 10 years later how Johnson had gotten in touch.

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“Exactly, that was the first surprise,” said Rockenfeller, who idolized countryman Michael Schumacher growing up but later began following Johnson. “How did he get my email? He managed to do it, and again, that shows the effort to text somebody or ask somebody to get the email and immediately write me.

Jimmie Johnson Rockenfeller email
Mike Rockenfeller tapped Jimmie Johnson on the helmet before the No. 48 Cadillac went out for the Motul 100 qualifying race Sunday at Daytona (Tina Theriault Strader).

“It meant a lot really to see that. In a way, it made me proud that a guy like him I’m looking up to in all my career takes the time with all the schedule he had back then, because he was flat-out racing in NASCAR all those years, but he took the time and said, ‘Man, I’ll write him an email,’ and that really changed my mood.

“Schumacher in my early days is probably what Jimmie is for a lot of kids and guys in America in NASCAR. So to be with him on the car, it’s a great opportunity, and I’m so looking forward to it.”

Johnson and Rockenfeller connected face to face for the first time since the Le Mans email on Dec. 9, 2020 when their Action Express Racing team tested at Daytona International Speedway.

Mike Rockenfeller (IMSA)

“Super nice guy,” Rockenfeller said. “Great driver, obviously, but also a nice person. Which is always important in endurance racing. What’s good in our lineup, each driver had a good career, but there’s no ego. It’s not like we need to prove something. We want to enjoy what we’re doing and do our very best, and the big goal is obviously to get a new watch.”

Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson said he also learned of Johnson’s email for the first time when Rockenfeller shared it at the Daytona test.

“Rocky told the story, and I thought that was pretty amazing,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “Jimmie sees race car drivers as a big fraternity who look after each other. Rocky was quite impressed by that. He had one hell of a crash there in Le Mans.”

In another “small world” story on the No. 48 team, Johnson also already was good friends with Pagenaud, whose wife, Hailey, grew up in El Cajon, California, and is tight with Johnson’s younger brother Jessie. Jimmie Johnson and Pagenaud were in Jessie Johnson’s wedding together a year ago.

“It’s really cool; a great personal story for me to join the legend,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar champion and 2019 Indy 500 winner.

“I feel like with Simon and Rocky there’s a very similar, passionate desire that we all have, and the way that we carry ourselves,” Jimmie Johnson said.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them, and hopefully this is just the start of things for us at this race, and maybe we can do some more racing with one another down the road.”

Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud were part of the wedding party for Jessie Johnson’s wedding last year.

IndyCar results, points after Detroit Grand Prix


DETROIT — Alex Palou topped the results of an NTT IndyCar Series race for the second time this season, extending his championship points lead with his victory in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who also won the GMR Grand Prix (and the Indy 500 pole position) last month, holds a 51-point lead over teammate Marcus Ericsson (ninth at Detroit) through seven of 17 races this season.

Ganassi, which placed all four of its drivers in the top 10 at Detroit, has three of the top four in the championship standings with Scott Dixon ranked fourth after a fourth at Detroit.

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Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden is third in the standings after taking a 10th at Detroit. Pato O’Ward slipped to fifth in the points after crashing and finishing 26th

Here are the IndyCar results and points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:


Click here for the official box score from the 100-lap race on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit.

Lap leader summary

Full lap chart

Best section times

Full section data

Event summary

Pit stop summary

Here is the finishing order in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix with starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alex Palou, Honda, 100, Running
2. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 100, Running
3. (9) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 100, Running
4. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Running
5. (13) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 100, Running
6. (12) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 100, Running
7. (2) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 100, Running
8. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 100, Running
9. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 100, Running
10. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 100, Running
11. (24) Colton Herta, Honda, 100, Running
12. (17) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 100, Running
13. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 100, Running
14. (20) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 100, Running
15. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 100, Running
16. (18) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 100, Running
17. (25) Jack Harvey, Honda, 100, Running
18. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 100, Running
19. (23) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 100, Running
20. (19) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 97, Running
21. (22) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 97, Running
22. (26) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 97, Running
23. (21) David Malukas, Honda, 85, Contact
24. (3) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 80, Contact
25. (27) Graham Rahal, Honda, 50, Contact
26. (10) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 41, Contact
27. (16) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1, Contact

Winner’s average speed: 80.922 mph; Time of Race: 02:01:58.1171; Margin of victory: 1.1843 seconds; Cautions: 7 for 32 laps; Lead changes: 10 among seven drivers. Lap Leaders: Palou 1-28; Power 29-33; O’Ward 34; Palou 35-55; Power 56-64; Palou 65; Rossi 66; Newgarden 67-68; Kirkwood 69; Ericsson 70-76; Palou 77-100.


Click here for the points tally in the race.

Here are the points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:



Engine manufacturers

Pit stop performance

Top 10 in points: Palou 273, Ericsson 222, Newgarden 203, Dixon 194, O’Ward 191, Rossi 176, McLaughlin 175, Power 172, Herta 149, Rosenqvist 148.

Rest of the standings: Grosjean 145, Kirkwood 142, Lundgaard 136, Ilott 116, VeeKay 108, Ferrucci 105, Armstrong 101, Rahal 99, Malukas 91, Daly 88, DeFrancesco 81, Castroneves 80, Harvey 78, Canapino 77, Pagenaud 72, Pedersen 61, Robb 55, Takuma Sato 37, Ed Carpenter 27, Ryan Hunter-Reay 20, Tony Kanaan 18, Marco Andretti 13, RC Enerson 5, Katherine Legge 5.

Next race: IndyCar will head to Road America for the Sonsio Grand Prix, which will take place June 18 with coverage starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.