The White Zone: Johnson worthy inductee of the hall

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson took his seat at the center of the Grand Hall of the NASCAR Hall of Fame to answer questions from the media. I watched from the second row, staring dead ahead of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. A man who, as a Jeff Gordon fan, caused me grief and broke my heart so many times, during his five-year span of championships.

Now as a member of the NASCAR media corp, I sit back and realize I witnessed the entire career of arguably NASCAR’s greatest driver.

From dislike to respect

As Johnson celebrated in victory lane at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 11, 2007, Gordon approached him and waved the white flag.

“I surrender,” he said, bowing to Johnson. “I surrender.”

After Gordon won back-to-back races at Talladega Superspeedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson rattled off four-straight wins to clinch his second Cup Series title.

In a film script of my life, the camera cuts to 13-year-old me and my gaudy 24 DuPont Chevrolet shirt, as I hang my head in despair. During a season in which Gordon set a modern-era record for most top-10 finishes in a single season (30), Johnson did what Gordon did to Mark Martin in 1998; out-win him to a championship.

It didn’t stop there.

2008, Johnson duels it out with Carl Edwards to win his third-straight championship. Meanwhile, Gordon goes winless for just the second time in his career.

2009, Gordon breaks a 43-race winless streak by holding off Johnson to win at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time in his career. Gordon even led the points for the first time in two years.

Cut to November, Johnson wins his four-straight title.

Fast-forward to 2010. Johnson breaks the heart of Denny Hamlin fans to win his fifth-straight title. Gordon blows an engine in the final race to secure his third winless season.

Cut to me, a socially-awkward sophomore in high school, combined with the beginning of my future alma mater’s descent into the football abyss (it’s in my bio), that five-year period wasn’t much fun.

HAMPTON, Ga. – FEBRUARY 28: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 28, 2016, in Hampton, Georgia. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Six years later, I jumped from the grandstands to the press box. Johnson won the first NASCAR race I covered on-site. Now as someone who retired his fan allegiance to join the media, I found an immense level of respect for him. Especially when he gave such detailed answers to questions from a stammering mess like me.

I covered four of his six wins in 2016, on the way to his seventh Cup Series championship. Furthermore, I covered his penultimate Cup Series victory on a Monday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Beyond his wins, however, I saw a side of Johnson that he doesn’t usually show. In public, he was very stoic and a great spokesperson for his sponsors (like former teammate, Terry Labonte). Off-camera, however, and while nowhere near Matt Kenseth, I saw his more snarky demeanor shine through.

Looking back

Cut to Wednesday, Johnson stands in front of a video screen in loafers, light brown pants and a blazer, and poses for pictures with Knaus and Donny Allison. As I said, earlier, I’m in the second row of people asking him questions.

I asked him what it means to him to hear someone say he’s one of NASCAR’s all-time greatest.

It humbles Johnson.

“We just want to go racing and from a very young age, racing is in our life,” he said. “Our parents raised their families raced and we just wanted to be racers and sure we wouldn’t, I know I tried to dream big, but I couldn’t have dreamed this big and to have everything play out as it has. Even then, looking back on those moments in time and five in a row and seven championships in total, these different moments along the way, I still can’t believe it’s happened.”

Grateful as ever, Johnson made me see why I’ve gone from a disgruntled Gordon fan to having nothing but respect for the seven-time champion.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Tucker White
Tucker White
I've followed NASCAR for well over 20 years of my life, both as a fan and now as a member of the media. As of 2024, I'm on my ninth season as a traveling NASCAR beat writer. For all its flaws and dumb moments, NASCAR at its best produces some of the best action you'll ever see in the sport of auto racing. Case in point: Kyle Larson's threading the needle pass at Darlington Raceway on May 9, 2021. On used-up tires, racing on a worn surface and an aero package that put his car on the razor's edge of control, Larson demonstrated why he's a generational talent. Those are the stories I want to capture and break down. In addition to NASCAR, I also follow IndyCar and Formula 1. As a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee, I'm a diehard Tennessee Volunteers fan (especially in regards to Tennessee football). If covering NASCAR doesn't kill me, down the road, watching Tennessee football will. I'm also a diehard fan of the Atlanta Braves, and I lived long enough to see them win a World Series for the first time since 1995 (when I was just a year old). I've also sworn my fan allegiance to the Nashville Predators, though that's not paid out as much as the Braves. Furthermore, as a massive sports dork, I follow the NFL on a weekly basis. Though it's more out of an obligation than genuine passion (for sports dorks, following the NFL is basically an unwritten rule). Outside of sports, I'm a major cinema buff and a weeb. My favorite film is "Blazing Saddles" and my favorite anime is "Black Lagoon."


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