FORT WORTH, Texas — It took Jimmie Johnson more than an hour to get to the media center for his post-race news conference at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
It was the only time he was slow all day.
Johnson also had a legitimate reason for taking his time after winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the 1.5-mile track. It was his first Monster Energy NASCAR Series victory of the season, but his record seventh at TMS.
And when it was over, his dehydrated body started shutting down. He needed three bags of IV fluids pumped in at the infield care center after the race before he felt well enough to handle more questions from the media.
“I got out of the car and I was really hot,” Johnson said. “But I felt much better there and was on the right path (to recovery), I felt like.
“And then I was doing an interview with (radio personality) Claire (Lang), and I felt my back lock up and then my chest and my arms, and I was starting to cramp everywhere. That was an immediate trip to the infield care center to get some IVs. I had three bags of IV and feeling a ton better now.”
That Johnson is the greatest NASCAR driver of this generation is not debatable. He scored his record-tying seventh Cup championship last season, and Sunday’s win was the 81st of his storied career.
There is no doubt he is talented beyond reasonable imagination.
“Jimmie is obviously amazing. There’s no doubt about that,” said his crew chief, Chad Knaus.
But sometimes people forget how tough he is, too. Not just physically, but mentally.
He knew he was in for a long, hot, dry day early on in the 334-lap, 500-mile race at Texas. Normally he can press a button inside his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and it will squirt refreshing Gatorade into his mouth.
But when he pressed it on Lap 3 Sunday … nothing.
“I don’t know exactly why it wasn’t working, but I have a button, and there’s an electric motor that pushes my Gatorade to a bite valve that I have in my helmet,” Johnson said. “I pushed the button and nothing happened.
“I don’t know why or what failed, but it happened. I guess we had a caution on Lap 3 or something, and I pointed out to my guys that my drink system wasn’t working, so I just didn’t have any fluids. (In between) Stages 1 and 2, they handed me a small bottle of Gatorade, which I drank, but the 160 laps at the end or whatever it was, I just didn’t have any fluids at all in the car.”
That’s a long way to go without keeping yourself hydrated on a day when temperatures inside a stock car reached potential egg-frying levels.
And get this: As Johnson was sizing up Joey Logano to make what turned out to be the race-winning pass with 17 laps to go, he started cramping. But he tuned out the pain, made the pass and brought the No. 48 to Victory Lane.
It was impressive, to say the least. And even more so once everyone was apprised of exactly what the situation was for Johnson inside the sweltering car.
“I knew I was warm, but I didn’t feel too bad,” Johnson said. “When I caught Joey and was racing with Joey, I started cramping pretty good on my left side — my chest and my biceps, my forearm — and I knew I was real low on fluids.
“I didn’t think I was in any trouble until near the end of the race, and I thought, ‘I can make it from here.’ “
Now he gets a well-deserved week off before the next race at Bristol Motor Speedway. And he knows just what kind of fluids he’ll need to recharge the batteries.
“I’m going to take an Easter trip with family and some friends and definitely get in some Margaritas and chips and guacamole,” Johnson said.
Spoken like a true champion all the way around. After yet another gritty, winning performance Sunday, no one deserves it more.