Jimmie Johnson is the two-time defending NASCAR points champion and, entering the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Sunday, is in position to make a strong run at a third title.
In his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Johnson appears to be the epitome of cool control on the track. But he also has a life away from racing and earlier this week Johnson sat with staff writer Ron Green Jr. to answer 20 questions about himself and his life.
Q. What's your best moment in a race car?
A. Getting that first win in any given class or category. You can bring a young guy in and develop him but you've got to win. So my first off-road truck win, my first ASA win, my first Busch win, my first Cup win, they're all massive, massive moments.
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Q. Is there one mistake you’ve made that hangs with you?
A. I think back to '95 when I was racing off-road trucks and I had a pretty bad accident down in Mexico. Until that point, I was extremely aggressive, flipping trucks. I tore up a lot of equipment.
My career was at a critical point there. I was fast and aggressive but I wasn't winning because I making a lot of mistakes. That low point of almost literally killing myself in that crash changed me as a driver.
Q. What happened?
A. I was leading the Baja 1000 on like a fire road, a well-graded road. I had a lot of speed behind me and I actually dozed off. I had been up for 20-some hours, it was 3 or 4 in the morning and I was waiting on the sun to come up to try to get another burst of energy to make it to the finish.
I dozed off at the wheel and when I woke up I was entering a turn where I should've slowed down way before. I went off the road. My co-rider was knocked out and I thought I'd injured him. It really got my attention.
Q. You're fearless, it seems, on the race track, but what are you afraid of?
A. When I'm up on top of things that are really high, I feel like I have to jump. I don't know why. This voice in my head says jump. I was on top of the Eiffel Tower with my wife a couple of years ago and got to the top. I'm like, "You have to take me down. I feel like I've got to jump off this thing." She looked at me like "What are you talking about?" I was like, "I'm serious. I've got to get down." So down we went.
Q. Growing up in El Cajon, Cal., near San Diego, were you a surfer?
A. I spent a little time surfing, yeah. I grew up about 15 miles from the beach. In high school, once we had our own transportation, I had some friends that went surfing all the time. Sophomore, junior, senior year, I spent a lot of mornings waking up early, paddling out and trying to get to school on time.
Q. What do you like about surfing?
A. It's really cool. You try to catch the swell right where it's starting to break. So you see the swell coming and it's bigger than you. Then there's the whole process of it catching you, propelling you. You're paddling and going backward and then this swell lifts you up and off you go.
Q. What is your most dreaded household chore?
A. Changing light bulbs. It's not that I hate to do it, but it's one that just slips through my mind. Then my wife is, like, "I asked you to change the light bulb." Then it becomes, "I've got her on my butt now. I need to change some light bulbs."
Q. You've gotten into golf recently. What is it about golf that gets your motor running?
A. It's so challenging. So challenging. The other part I really enjoy is going out with three of your friends, harassing each other, working out the handicaps, negotiating them before you tee off and the interaction throughout the day. I love what it's about and spending some good time with my friends.
Q. You don't come across as a trash-talker. Are you on the golf course?
A. Oh, yeah. I'm having a lot of fun with it. The trash-talking is great. I've learned some new ones I can't wait to use.
Q. What was your first job?
A. My first real job was at a shock company. They built shocks for off-road trucks in California.
Q. Did you ever have a really bad job?
A. Construction jobs were tough, especially as a kid. You're up before the sun comes up. I didn't know what coffee was at the time. You're out there at these job sites, running jackhammers, laying brick.
The jobs I hated the most were when we had to do some sort of work to septic tanks. That is the worst form of work ever.
Q. What's your favorite meal?
A. Fish tacos always hit the spot.
Being in Mexico, pulling up to some little stand on the beach and getting fresh fish tacos, there's nothing better than that with fresh corn tortillas, all the salsa.
Q. If you could have four people come to dinner, whom would you pick?
A. I'd love to see my grandfathers again. They've been gone for a long time. I'd love to bring them back somehow and spend some time with them. I don't know why I think of people that are gone, but I think of my friends that were on the airplane that went down (near Martinsville, Va.) and I think of Blaise Alexander. He was a very close friend of mine. And another guy I grew up racing with, Al Shill Jr. That's more than four but my mind goes to those people.
Q. Can you complete this sentence: My wife thinks I’m too. ...
A. Immature would be a good one. I've had a hard time growing up and I'm very proud of that.
Q. What was your first date with your wife?
A. I was in New York. It was at a friend's house party. I'd met her a few times in passing and that night she was at this party and we spent a lot of time talking, and things went really fast from there.
Q. What's in your cereal bowl?
A. I've been through a variety of sugary cereals that I've enjoyed over the years, but Frosted Mini-Wheats are my go-to cereal.
Q. What do you have in your DVR?
A. "Californication." "Entourage." We taped "The Sopranos" when it was on all the time.
Sunday nights is really our nights. We come back from the track and it's really hard to sleep after a race. I'm physically exhausted but mentally still wide awake so Sundays we'll flip on the DVR and watch the shows.
Q. Do you have a guilty pleasure?
A. Ice cream. I'm such a bad ice cream hound. In the little freezers (in the motorhome) we have a great selection of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. I can't stop myself.
Middle of the night, I'll wake up knowing there's ice cream in that drawer and I'll go out and have some and come back and my wife will say, "It's 2 in the morning. You got out of bed to eat ice cream?" I'll say, yeah.
Q. Do you have a favorite flavor?
A. Cherry Garcia is one of my favorites. Karamel Sutra I like. Chocolate on one side, vanilla on the other, caramel in the center so you can have any type of bite you might enjoy.
Q. You drive for a living but when you're driving around town, what bugs you the most?
A. Slow cars in the fast lane. When you're in the fast lane and running like 54 in a 55 or 64 in a 65, get out of the way. There's three or four lanes over there.