Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion did something yesterday that he’d never done before. As the defending champion of the sport, Johnson served as a member of the NASCAR Hall Of Fame Voting Panel, casting his vote for five nominees for the Class of 2015.
“That was a huge honor and an amazing day to be a part of,” said Johnson today. “To sit in a room with so many people that care for our sport and know about our sport, then discuss what took place in eras of time when I certainly wasn’t around. It was an awesome and unique experience. In years to come, it’s only going to help drivers in the garage area understand the history of our sport and grow closer and more attached to the people that built this sport.”
One the nominees on this year’s ballot was Johnson’s car owner, Rick Hendrick. The six-time champion revealed, however, that there was no behind-the-scenes lobbying prior to the vote.
“I’m not sure he feels he should be in there yet,” said Johnson. “He’s a competitor and he appreciates the phone calls he received yesterday and the concern from others. But I don’t think he feels like it’s time to be in there yet, even though I voted for him. I am so impressed with his stats and what he has done, but I still think there are many more to come.”
Johnson said that despite doing plenty of homework prior to the vote, he still struggled to trim his ballot to five names.
“I actually read the book (provided by the HOF),” he said, “and those who know me know how much I despise reading. I read the book twice. I studied up and enjoyed the entire process.
“I probably had seven (candidates) going in,” he admitted. “I thought the discussion would help me whittle it down to five. But after the conversations took place, I think my number grew to nine. And then we had lunch and things moved kind of quickly after that. The ballot was in front of me… and it was time to check some boxes.
“I felt like I could have been there another couple of hours with the open microphone… learning more about the individuals. It was not an easy decision.”
He also commented on the internet debate and second-guessing that follows each year’s vote.
“Following social media and seeing people being upset that someone… didn’t make it in, I feel for everybody,” he said. “I sensed that some took the voting process lightly, based on just 140 characters that come through a tweet. I wish others -- especially the people on the outside of our sport looking in -- could understand how much thought went into (the vote). I was really impressed (with) the whole prepping process, what went into it and how much consideration goes into each and every name on the ballot.
“I wish that the garage area could sit in on that discussion and see the respect that the peers and the people on the voting panel have for our industry and for the people involved,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t an easy process to work down to five. All 20 on that list were very deserving to be in the Hall of Fame.
“Those in (the room) know, it’s not an easy process to pick those five.