CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Reigning NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was just a little bit anxious about voting for the NASCAR Hall of Fame this week.
For the first time in NASCAR — and perhaps in any major U.S. sport — a current competitor was allowed to help select the five inductees for a Hall of Fame class. Johnson was part of a 54-member panel that picked Bill Elliott, Wendell Scott, Rex White, Joe Weatherly and Fred Lorenzen for induction into the hall next January.
"That was a huge honor and to be an amazing day to be a part of," Johnson said. "To sit in a room with so many people that care for our sport, know about our sport and discuss what took place in these eras of time."
Johnson and the Sprint Cup Series are at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend for NASCAR's longest race, the Coca Cola 600. Qualifying takes place Thursday with the race scheduled for Sunday night. Johnson, 38, did not take his Hall of Fame responsibilities lightly — even reading through the extensive briefing book on the 20 hall nominees twice.
"Those that know me know how much I despise reading," he said.
Johnson spoke up for his team owner Rick Hendrick and another longtime Sprint Cup owner Richard Childress, saying the two stood should-to-shoulder among those who've built the sport. Johnson said he voted for Hendrick, who has owned the driver's team since he began Sprint Cup racing in 2001. Johnson's won 66 races in 446 starts and six series championships, including this past season.
Johnson caught up with Hendrick earlier Thursday on the way to the track. Johnson said the owner with 11 Sprint Cup championships and 220 race wins was grateful for calls, emails and texts from friends and those in racing after the vote.
"He appreciates the concern from others, but I don't think he feels like it's time" for his enshrinement, Johnson said.
NASCAR modified its voting process to give a vote to that year's champion. Johnson acknowledged there were nominees he didn't know well.
"Some I wasn't even (alive) for, others I was on the West Coast and didn't know NASCAR," he said.
With Johnson's accomplishments, there's no doubt that when the time comes he'll be a can't-miss, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Until then, he's happy with his chance to add to the hall and knows others will cherish the honor as much as he has.
"I think of (21-year-old) Kyle Larson and other younger drivers coming along, how good it would be for them to witness all of that," Johnson said. "An awesome day. The champion gets that honor and it is a huge honor. I know the champions behind me will have as great an experience as I did."