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Jimmie Johnson, seven-time NASCAR champion, to retire after 2020 season

Jimmie Johnson, one of the most decorated champions in stock-car racing, announced the endpoint of his full-time driving career Wednesday, indicating 2020 will mark his final season in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Johnson has spent his entire career with the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet operation, which he has called home since his premier series debut in 2001. He announced the news with a heartfelt video on Twitter and is expected to address the media Thursday afternoon.

“I’m so thankful for 18 incredible years of racing in NASCAR,” Johnson says. “The sport has been good to me. It has allowed me to do something I truly love. I showed up chasing a dream and achieved more than I ever thought possible. I’m looking forward to next season and celebrating what will be my last year as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver. I know what this team is capable of, and I hope 2020 is one of the best yet.”

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Johnson has won seven titles in NASCAR’s top division, tied for the all-time most with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty — both members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class. The 44-year-old driver ranks in a tie for sixth on NASCAR’s all-time win list, his 83 victories equaling the total of Cale Yarborough.

“NASCAR history will always hold Jimmie Johnson in the highest regard, for his hard-charging success on the racetrack and the way he conducted himself as a champion off the track,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. “This remarkable seven-time champion – through his competitive spirit, immense talent and sportsmanship – has made NASCAR a better sport. On behalf of my family and the entire NASCAR community, I thank Jimmie for his dedication to NASCAR and, along with his legions of fans, wish him all the best in his final season.  I look forward to watching him race for wins and an eighth NASCAR Cup Championship in 2020.”

Johnson is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500, prevailing in The Great American Race in 2006 and 2013. He also won four times each in the Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400, adding two Southern 500 crowns along the way, but his most distinctive achievement came in the form of an unprecedented streak.

Johnson won his first five championships consecutively from 2006-2010, adding titles in 2013 and ’16. That stretch of success surpassed the previous mark held by Yarborough, who won three straight titles from 1976-78.

The California native last won in June 2017, prevailing on friendly turf at Dover International Speedway, and the drought prompted two high-profile crew chief changes within the span of a year.

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“I get to say when I’m done,” Johnson told reporters ahead of the 2019 season, noting his detractors who hinted he should place his driving gloves on the shelf. “It did weigh on me and I can’t wait to win and win often. I think that would be something really nice to say back to all those people that suggested that I was washed up and done.”

Johnson emerged from the world of motorcycle racing and off-road trucks, moving to asphalt — first in the American Speed Association (ASA) circuit and eventually to a brief stint in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Once there, he caught the attention of four-time champion Jeff Gordon, thanks to a fortunate seating arrangement at a drivers’ meeting in 2000.

“I went in looking for advice and I walked out with the opportunity of a lifetime,” Johnson recalled to the Associated Press in 2001.

Before their conversation, Gordon had already planted Johnson’s name as a possible prospect with Hendrick, who had designs on expanding his organization from three cars to four.

That newly created No. 48 team, which paired Johnson with budding crew chief talent Chad Knaus, became one of the most productive in stock-car racing history.

Johnson’s statistical prowess secures his spot among the all-time greats, but he also broke new ground in his approach to physical fitness. Johnson remains an avid cyclist and runner; in April, he ran his first Boston Marathon just two days after competing in a 400-lap race at Richmond Raceway.

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