February 27, 2013

Jimmie Johnson remembers how to do the Daytona media blitz

Daytona champ says victory feels like winning a “season championship.”

They asked Jimmie Johnson if he knew where he was when he woke up Wednesday morning.

He smiled. He had to think about it.

Such is life for the Daytona 500 champion in the days after he (or she, maybe one day) becomes the Daytona 500 champion.

The days after crossing the finish line at the famed super speedway in Daytona Beach mean zipping from Florida to New York to Texas to California, then Las Vegas, to talk to all kinds of reporters and appear on all kinds of shows, all to relive the victory.

“Letterman is cool,” Johnson said. “He’s a racer. He owns an Indy race team. And seeing the famous building is neat.”

It’s three days of talking. And when that’s all over, it’s on to Phoenix, site of the next race, to get ready for the next race.

So he had to smile at the question.

But he knew soon enough.

Texas. Dallas. Where in a short while, he would be the guest of honor at a lunch just for him and a few hundred paying customers at the House of Blues.

Talking to reporters for 72 hours straight is not the worst thing in the world, probably. But promoting the victory and the sport is an obligation for the Daytona 500 winner. Has been for years.

Johnson did it seven years ago.

He doesn’t remember it being this ... interesting?

“It seems bigger,” he said. “It seems like more of a big deal.”

If Johnson seems relaxed and readily enjoying the afterglow of his Daytona 500 victory on Sunday, it should.

He is relaxed. He is enjoying it. Experience has taught him that is a good thing.

“We’re feel like we’re going to start the season at the top of the class, and we’re excited about that,” he said.

Last year, he started it at the bottom — running only a lap at the 500 before crashing. It left him almost a race’s worth of points behind in the driver’s standings.

And he made it up. He had the points lead with three races to go. He came to Texas Motor Speedway in November and won, adding to his lead. It took a couple of weeks of bad luck to deny him Sprint Cup championship No. 6.

So he has perspective.

Winning on Sunday was a big deal.

“It feels like you won a season championship, more than a race,” he said.

Losing would not have been a big deal. Unless he let it become a big deal.

“I have seen some teams and drivers win the 500, and you see four or five months later, they haven’t had such a great year,” he said. “There’s some type of hangover from the 500.

“Or it can be a springboard.”

Just remember where you are.

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