CUP: Johnson Spreading The Wealth

Jimmie Johnson, who raked in multiple millions from another championship run in Sprint Cup racing, is returning some of the bounty this week.

Through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education project, Johnson and his wife, Chandra, awarded $688,087 in education grants to 13 public-school projects in North Carolina (where the Johnsons reside), California (Jimmie’s home state) and Oklahoma (Chandra’s home state).

Johnson has been spending much of his time since winning his fifth straight title and being honored at the Las Vegas awards banquet relaxing with his family and cleaning up the loose ends from the season. His team has run tests without him, and he is not participating in the Wednesday and Thursday tire tests at Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson remained in the news this week, however, as it was announced that he was named, for the fourth time, as the American Driver of the Year, an award that involves all motorsports disciplines. He edged veteran drag racer John Force to join Jeff Gordon as the only drivers to win the award four times.

“I’m very excited about it,” he said Thursday. “When you look at all the drivers who were nominated for driver of the year, I don’t know how you even pick it. I’m extremely honored and very proud of what we’ve done.

“It was a tough year for us, but to get the same result speaks a lot to my ability, the ability of Chad (crew chief Chad Knaus) and the team. The team atmosphere was tested at Texas and closing out the final races.”

Johnson said Hendrick Motorsports is working through the process of aligning pit crews for next season. Knaus switched pit crews in the middle of the race at Texas, calling on Gordon’s crew to finish the race with Johnson after Johnson’s regular crew stumbled. Gordon’s crew remained with Johnson for the season’s final two races.

“We’re trying to work through that now,” Johnson said. “There obviously has been a lot of focus on our crew from what happened last year. Some guys, in a sense, have to come back and earn their positions. There always are a few to look at. We’ve had combines, tryouts and a lot of stuff going on in the off-season trying to find out six best guys.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for 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.