DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Winning never gets old, though it can get repetitive.
In victory lane, as 2013 Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson took on interview after interview, his wife Chandra and daughter Evie waited patiently at stage right. Chandra smiled through an interview of her own as Evie swung on a stair rail. Next to them, crew chief Chad Knaus checked his phone, stopping every so often to pose for photos with a few right-place, right-time fans.
Soaked confetti dotted the ground. Outside victory lane, security guards were prodding fans toward the exits. (One carried the entire discarded front bumper of Kevin Harvick's wrecked car over his shoulder like spoils from a hunt.) In the garage, haulers were backing out to begin the long drive up I-95.
And still in victory lane, Johnson was doing the "hat dance," the routine where they don hat after hat for photograph after photograph. Evie, bored with the stair rail, had begun leaping onto Knaus' back, her hands around his neck.
They've all done this before, even two-year-old Evie. Johnson has won 61 times in his 400 starts, the best winning percentage among active drivers and eighth all-time. They know the routine. And they all know there are worse ways to end a day at the track than picking confetti out of your hair.
A few minutes later, Johnson would say that he was "proud to have my family here. Chani and Evie mean the world to me. Chani has been by my side and supporting me and letting me focus on my job and do all that I need to do to be a part of this race team. I win, our family wins. To have that moment in victory lane is very special, too."
Whether you win a Sprint Cup championship or the Daytona 500, you're in for a sleep-depriving gauntlet of pomp, circumstance and celebration. You're peeling off interviews with radio stations as fast as you can switch calls. You're a guest on talk shows that normally wouldn't get within 500 miles of NASCAR. Sleep? Forget about it. You're the guest of honor at a hundred different parties.
Thing is, when you win the championship, you get a full 12 weeks to get back into racing shape. When you win Daytona? You've got six days, including a cross-country trip to Phoenix.
"That's the thing that's difficult about our sport," Knaus said. "You've got to move on relatively quickly and put the good things and the bad things behind you. So that goes both ways. Jimmie does a very good job of balancing that out. He's going to have some serious obligations with all of you from a media standpoint. But he'll be on point when it comes time for Phoenix."
"I'm just enjoying this moment," Johnson said. "This is a one-of-a-kind race. In the rush that follows, the notoriety that follows, it's great for all of us. Chad, Rick [Hendrick, team owner], the company [Hendrick Motorsports], Lowe's, Chevrolet. It's just time to sit back and enjoy."
As much of a career boost as a Daytona win can be – no matter what else happens in your career, you'll always be a Daytona champion – it's a rare feat for a driver to win both the Daytona 500 and the championship in the same season. In 54 previous years, only seven times has a driver bookended a season's championships. Of course, the last guy to do it was a fella by the name of Jimmie Johnson, back in 2006. (Richard Petty did it four times, Cale Yarborough and Jeff Gordon once each.)
"When we pull into the gates at Phoenix next weekend, it's a totally different game, as we all know," Johnson said. "We'll enjoy this rush. If there's some down points through the year, we'll look back on this race and smile again."
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