Johnson honored for sixth NASCAR title
LAS VEGAS - Ultimately, the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Friday night were all about Jimmie Johnson and his sixth series championship.
After team owner Rick Hendrick, sponsor Lowe's and crew chief Chad Knaus all received their due, Johnson took the podium to acknowledge those who had helped make his sixth title possible.
"Rick and (wife) Linda, you've created the winningest racing organization in NASCAR history by caring for the people you employ and treating us all like family," Johnson said after receiving his championship ring from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France.
"And I'm honored to call myself a Hendrick employee."
Johnson thanked Knaus for pushing him to make him better and acknowledged the bond, both personal and professional, formed between driver and crew chief over the past 12 years.
Jeff Gordon recognized the accomplishments of Johnson, crew chief Knaus and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
"Jimmie and Chad, and the entire 48 team, congratulations on your sixth title in eight years," Gordon said. "Individually, you are both one of the best at what you do. Together, you're a dominant force. Congratulations on another impressive year and another championship."
Gordon also addressed his 11th-hour inclusion in the Chase as the 13th car.
"We may have been a late addition, but I know in my heart we belonged in this year's Chase," Gordon said. "And we proved it every weekend throughout. Thanks to my team for never giving up."Dale Earnhardt Jr., the series' fifth-place finisher, delivered his speech with an eye to the future, buoyed by his strong run in the Chase."As for our 88 team, we have seen a steady improvement each season we've been together," Earnhardt said. "That type of initiative is hard to find. It's my opinion that I spend my weekends with the hardest-working group in the garage. That type of attitude has made me not just a better driver but a better person as well.
"I think we as a group are thankful for each other. I look forward to 2014 with you guys and another year of getting better."
Before Johnson took the stage, series runner-up Matt Kenseth, who moved from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing this season, offered his congratulations with a pointed suggestion.
"I will start by congratulating Jimmie, Chad, Rick and the 48 team . but, honestly, I have to say, your dominance is getting old," Kenseth said. "If I were you Jimmie, I would seriously contemplate retirement. Winning that much has to be tiring."Go buy yourself an island somewhere, hang out with your family, find a new hobby, spend some of that money and enjoy yourself."But as usual, Johnson had the last word, as he and the No. 48 team prepare for a run at a record-tying seventh championship next year.