24/7 Jimmie Johnson: Race to Daytona
Original Air Date: Jan 26, 2010
Farrah Kaye – Associate Editor
If you’re not a NASCAR fan, I highly suggest you still watch this series (and if you are a fan, I suggest it even more!). It gives you insight to how hard the drivers, pit crew and members of the teams work to get to where they are. This specific series takes a look at four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson as he prepares for the most prestigious race in NASCAR, the Daytona 500. Johnson won the race in 2006, under a cloud of scrutiny (more about that later), yet while he has four Cup trophies, he wants another Daytona win. The four-part series will follow Johnson during media obligations, include a look into his personal life and interviews with members of his family team, including Crew Chief Chad Knaus and owner Rick Hendrick. Liev Schreiber narrates the series.
“The track. The clock. The wheel. Each is an evolution of the circle, each more ancient than the last. Together measuring one ageless pursuit of mankind: Speed. But velocity without a master will not win a race. A champion is asked to control speed from within, to bridge distance and time until all circles dissolve into one line, defining the finish. In under a decade, he has cemented a place in NASCAR history, his unprecedented four consecutive championships have built a dynasty. Jimmie Johnson stands alone as the best stock car driver in the world.”
With this introduction, narrated over dramatic views of a car and a track, we begin a look into the world of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy Impala and its driver, his family, team, crew, and owner. He is led by Crew Chief Chad Knaus, who is a perfectionist that Johnson trusts week in and week out. Johnson’s wife, Chandra, is also there by his side at all times. Johnson says he loves being the guy with the target on his back, which has obviously been working for him considering those four Cup trophies he has!
We are introduced to Johnson during his morning routine of shaving, making a protein shake and driving around in his car. He talks about growing up being cleaned and polished, which is why he’s known around NASCAR as “vanilla” and “boring.” He may be, but he can surely drive a car, earning himself 47 victories and $52 million in purse earnings. In 2009, he was honored by the Associated Press with the title of Athlete of the Year. However, this caused controversy since most people in the sports world (and non-sports world) don’t consider NASCAR drivers athletes – and that pisses off Johnson. To show they are, our first glimpse into the seriousness of their athleticism is showing the strict drug-testing drivers go through. Thanks HBO for showing me Jimmie Johnson’s pee in a cup. I could’ve lived without that! We then switch to Chad Knaus, who says if he isn’t working in racing, he doesn’t know what he would do – it’s all he knows. He leaves his house at 5:48 AM, something of an omen, as the 48 car is going for a 5th championship. He is heading to a test track with Johnson to prepare for the season. Knaus explains the science behind finding speed and how when they finally do, it “jazzes” them up. But there are rules and regulations to follow, and in 2006 Knaus was suspended after the 48 car failed post-race inspection. The following week Johnson won the Daytona 500 while Knaus watched at home. That “cheating” stigma still sticks with Knaus today. Years ago, many years ago, everyone “cheated” to get the win. But then rules came along, and with rules come consequences. Knaus says if you have a black and white rulebook, you have to find the space in between. He stands by everything he’s done and says nothing was illegal and that pretty much every crew chief has been caught “cheating.” But then again, they’re not the 48 car.
Then we get a look in the 48 shop at Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, NC. The cars are built from scratch by a team of hundreds. There are 25 main men devoted to Johnson specifically, from his pit crew to car chief. The pit crew is made up of 7 guys, most former college athletes, who train twice a day. They have two trainers who put them through rigorous exercises and pit practices. Knaus admits to pushing his crew beyond the limits and most of the guys usually don’t like him. But in the end, that gets the win. His number one pet peeve? Not shaving! Hendrick also holds a quarterly lunch with the entire Hendrick Motorsports family, including its leader, Rick Hendrick.
Hendrick is the proud owner of 9 Cup Championships and 4 Cup teams. The 48, 24 (Jeff Gordon), 5 (Mark Martin) and 88 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr). In his interview, he is sitting with cookies and milk. Johnson then tells the story of the “cookies and milk” meeting. In 2005, he and Knaus were at odds, and were called into a meeting by Hendrick. Hendrick hands them each a plate of cookies on a Mickey Mouse plate and half-gallon of milk. They could either act like kids or sort things out. They did, and won the championship the following year and every year since.
The team of Johnson and Knaus are a great duo, on and off the track, although Johnson admits Knaus is not a people person (Knaus agrees) and has few friends – and is single. Johnson, on the other hand, has a family and a vibrant life. He met his wife Chandra in 2001 and married in 2004. Johnson’s face glows as he talks about his wife, which is nice to see since we only get to see them together at the track. But now it’s Chandra’s turn to glow, as she is expecting their first child in July. We get an inside look to Chandra’s pregnancy – her acupuncture to stop her morning sickness and what triggers it (meat cooking is one of the things).
But work still is going on at the shop, as the pit crew practice to fine tune the 12-second pit stop. The pit stop is changing the tires, filling the gas tank and making quick adjustments to the car. You know how you wait 2 hours at your local tire shop? Yah, this ain’t nothing like that! While they practice the art of changing the tire, Johnson works out to a customized routine put together by a state-of-the-art personal trainer. His trainer, John Sitaras, notes that Jimmie doesn’t train to race, he trains to win. Noted! One of Johnson’s cars is taken to the “Wind Tunnel,” which duplicates the climates of tracks. This one will duplicate Daytona to see how the car reacts. Knaus brings the team together to tell them all the trophies and banners from last year are gone – it’s a brand new season and it’s time to get started.
On part 2 (airing next Tuesday), watch as Jimmie prepares for the Rolex 24 and will be assisted by his dad and Chad is back at the shop, deep in perfecting the car for the Great American Race.
So, for NASCAR fans, what did you think of the inside look to Johnson’s life? Any non-NASCAR fans enjoy the special (or the recap of it)? Leave your two cents below.