Saying he doesn’t take any of his titles lightly, Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson celebrated his fifth Friday night in the glitz and sparkle of Las Vegas.
Johnson collected his fifth Sprint Cup trophy and a season’s-end bonus check of $5,778,405, pushing his total winnings for the year to $13,393,186.
The banquet, attended by about 1,500 people, officially wrote “finish” on Johnson’s remarkable 2010 season as he once again frustrated mere pretenders to the title. This time it was perhaps the unkindest cut of all, as Johnson came from behind in the season’s final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to overtake Denny Hamlin.
“I don’t take any of these championships lightly,” Johnson said near the end of the almost four-hour program. “I never thought I’d get to this stage in my career. I was truly fighting for a job when I came to Hendrick Motorsports.
“I thought I could win one. I had no idea it would turn into this. I am so honored to be the champion of this great sport.”
The other nine drivers on the program used their speech time to congratulate Johnson and his team, talk about how great the sport’s fans are and, of course, thank each and every one of their sponsors. Some said the 2011 season can’t start soon enough.
Hamlin, who finished second to Johnson after stumbling on the last day of the season, gave a relatively short speech. “I’d like to talk a little smack,” he said, looking toward Johnson, “but I do know you’re going to get the last word.”
Caliendo got off a few topical zingers as he played both program host and spotlighted entertainer.
“Chad Knaus told me if I didn’t do well, he’s going to replace me with Jeff Gordon’s comedian,” Caliendo said, referring to Knaus’ decision to bench the No. 48 team’s pit crew for the final two and one-half races of the year in favor of Gordon’s crew chief. The move was considered instrumental in Johnson’s late-season championship run.
Kyle Busch was also a target of Caliendo, who referred to Busch’s upcoming wedding. “I don’t know if Kyle Busch knows much about rings, but he sure knows about fingers,” said Caliendo. Busch was famously penalized for making an obscene gesture at a NASCAR official while sitting in his car in the pits.
Caliendo also mentioned that it was OK if young driver Joey Logano wasn’t at the banquet “because he hasn’t finished reading all the ‘Twilight’ books yet.”
Doing an impression of late-night talk show host David Letterman, Caliendo read a Letterman “Top 10” list, this one containing Denny Hamlin’s excuses for losing the championship. Among them: “I got lost in Dale Jr.’s eyes.”
Caliendo also pulled a wig and mustache from a prop box on stage and imitated NASCAR president Mike Helton.
Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate, picked up his ninth-place trophy and said that “no one is more disappointed in our finish than we are,” especially “after starting the season so strong.”
Kyle Busch made fun of himself several times, saying he was “three weeks away from not having to go to the [NASCAR] hauler” before his blowup during the late-season Texas race.
Looking up at the video screen and watching some of his highlights as he began his speech, Busch said, “Who did my hair on that day?”
To Greg Biffle’s credit, he figured out a new way to congratulate Johnson.
“I’d like to congratulate Jimmie on the birth of his first child,” Biffle said, looking at Johnson. “You even beat me on that. You must be fast at everything.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.