As new brand ambassador for CBD product, Jimmie Johnson branches out with branding

Jimmie Johnson CBD
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment
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While he built a squeaky-clean corporate image as one of motorsports’ smoothest spokesman, a CBD deal once might have seemed unfathomable for Jimmie Johnson.

But Friday’s announcement of Johnson as a strategic brand ambassador conversant in hemp varietals for cbdMD reveals how Johnson’s pristine brand and the emerging CBD market, which has become a multibillion-dollar industry, both have evolved.

Though he became comfortable as an active user of the product over the past few months, Johnson still checked with his sponsor lineup before agreeing to the multiyear deal with cbdMD, a publicly traded company based in Charlotte.

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“As I’ve educated myself, I’ve become much more comfortable, and as I walk down this road with all of my partners, they’ve all approved and are very comfortable with the relationship,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “If anyone raised their hand and said no, I probably would be more concerned, but I just feel like where CBD has evolved to and the education that has taken place, the benefits that are out there, I think we are dealing with a more educated society, and they understand it.”

Joining golfer Bubba Watson and MMA fighter Daniel Cormier as a cbdMD spokesman, Johnson will be part of the company’s approach to take its brand mainstream by having athletes tell their stories.

“Knowing the partnership has formed because they truly believe in me and like who I am and want to be a part of my brand, there is a deeper level of satisfaction,” said Johnson, who has become more involved with aggressively recruiting sponsors such as Carvana while moving into racing full time in IndyCar this season (in the “2.0 phase” of his career continues post-NASCAR).

TopSpeed Management president Brian Marks, a consultant for cbdMD who set up the company’s initial meeting with Johnson at the Petit Le Mans last year, said the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was its sole choice for its expansion into big-league racing.

“He lends a lot of credibility,” Marks told NBC Sports. “It’s instant starpower for sure. Especially in motorsport, he carries a lot of weight from a brand standpoint We are looking to give street credibility to the brand in a quick fashion. Doing something with Jimmie really allows us to ratchet that up with warp speed.”

The NTT IndyCar Series recently approved cbdMD for 2022 sponsorship after the company, which positions itself as a health and wellness brand that has requested to remove its drug exclusion with the FDA. There were two major requirements to earn IndyCar’s favor: That cbdMD’s products were 100 percent hemp and avoided using cannabis imagery in marketing.

The perception connecting the CBD industry with marijuana has been a major hurdle in receiving brand approval for auto racing sponsorships.

Johnson has used all of cbdMD’s products, ranging from topical oils to soft gels and gummies, and been “very impressed” with their impact on his muscle recovery from workouts and improved sleep quality, but he also wanted assurances while competing in a sport that has random drug testing and a zero-tolerance policy for even trace amounts of THC. He uses a QR code on cbdMD packaging to ensure each batch has no THC.

“In the past, I’ve been very nervous of taking the ingestibles, because there’s a chance of the THC level being too high and causing a problem,” Johnson said. “They’ve gone to great lengths to ensure the security that I would need as an athlete, especially for a sport that still screens for THC.

“I feel like a lot of people are comfortable with CBD on the topical side. When you get to the ingestibles is where the concern takes place. Hopefully, over time people will understand it and be more comfortable with it.”

That’s the goal of having Johnson, who kicked off the deal with a video unveiling a new helmet Friday morning. He also will be featured in a national advertising campaign on print, digital and cable TV (there are restrictions for network TV advertising). “They have huge plans and plan to blow it out and steer toward a peak at the Indy 500,” Johnson said.

Though starting as a personal services deal, Johnson said cbdMD eventually could grow into a larger sponsorship for his No. 48 Dallara-Honda as cbdMD wants to work with other sponsors such as Carvana and the American Legion (the company is active in military charities).

“They have taken a strong position trying to help with their image, and that aligns well with my brand,” Johnson said. “They look forward to educating people, and they feel like I can help be a huge advocate and voice for that. Instead of being concerned and nervous about image, they’re like, ‘Oh no. This is what we do.’

“Where we sit now, we hope to have a long runway with various opportunities. I certainly could see it evolve into a deeper relationship with the car. I could see myself being helpful with them in acquiring shelf space or getting involved in retailers at a different level. The agreement with them is such where we have this flexibility, and I’m certainly on board with it because I’m a believer in the product. And there’s nothing better for a brand than to have one of their endorsers believe in it and have the opportunity to grow with the company.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.