Jimmie Johnson seems unconcerned by looming sponsor search

If you thought Jimmie Johnson was stressed or worried about the future after learning Lowe’s will leave NASCAR following this season…well, not so much.

Actually, Johnson came off the opposite way on Friday — expressing genuine confidence and optimism about what he called the “opportunity” to partner with a new sponsor.

The 42-year-old also made it very clear there are no plans to stop driving anytime soon.

“I guess maybe it’s the eternal optimist that I am,” he said. “I have more to do and I enjoy the process. Hendrick is home and retirement hasn’t been on my mind.

“I want to win. I want to win an eighth championship. … I’m not done yet.”

Johnson was partnered with Lowe’s as soon as he arrived in the Cup Series, so he’s highly curious to “see what’s out there and what we can do from a branding standpoint for a new company.” He said he believes NASCAR is growing and Lowe’s departure is not a reflection on the sport.

“It’s a business decision that Lowe’s needed to make, and that stuff happens,” he said.

Furthermore, the seven-time champion said he doesn’t anticipate it would be any harder for him to find a sponsor at his age because many major corporations operate on year-to-year marketing plans anyway.

Johnson added he plans to be heavily involved in the search process. Perhaps, he suggested, the driver himself could even contribute to some leads after making so many connections with various people during the course of his career.

“This is a really unique opportunity and it’s also a great learning and growing moment for myself,” he said. “I want to be involved in this process and learn along the way. And maybe a relationship or two that I have made over the years will come to fruition and maybe help with sponsorship, too.”

News Analysis: Lowe’s leaving Jimmie Johnson, 48 team after 2018

What happened: Hendrick Motorsports announced Lowe’s will not return to the team next season, meaning Jimmie Johnson will have a new primary sponsor for the first time in his career. Lowe’s, which has been the No. 48 team’s sponsor since 2001, said it will “now look to invest in other strategic initiatives.” Johnson’s contract runs through 2020, and he made it clear he’s “not going anywhere” despite being 42 years old. “I have more to accomplish in this sport,” he said. “I feel the best I’ve ever felt physically. I’m motivated. I’m focused on winning races and chasing more championships. Someone (a new sponsor) will be a big part of writing that story with us.”

What it means: This is the end of an era in several ways. First of all, Johnson, Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports, the 48 car and Lowe’s have all so tied together for such a long time, and now Lowe’s won’t be there. It’s going to be very strange to see Johnson promoting a different company next season (and yes, I think he will race for at least two more years). But perhaps more significant for NASCAR, Lowe’s was one of the last remaining full-season sponsors on a car — something that was once the norm. Kroger and its various brands do all of AJ Allmendinger’s races and FedEx had 34 races on Denny Hamlin’s car last season (Sport Clips did two), so that’s basically the next-closest thing. But other than that, even many of the biggest sponsors only do half or one-third of the season anymore. That has increased demands on the drivers, because it’s essentially tripled or quadrupled the amount of contractual appearances and promotional work they must do, put a financial strain on the teams to constantly chase new money and made it more difficult for casual fans to follow the racing since the paint schemes change every week.

News value (scale of 1-10): Eight. It’s pretty significant when the seven-time champion and perhaps the greatest driver in history loses his full-season sponsor, especially when it was the longest sponsor/team combination in NASCAR. Though this news alone does not mean NASCAR is in trouble or somehow dying, it should be viewed as a significant point when writing about the sport’s history and recent struggles.

Three questions: Will Hendrick be able to sign another sponsor for the full season, or will Johnson be juggling several companies? What made Lowe’s decide to leave altogether, rather than simply cut back or reduce its involvement? What kind of impact, if any, will this ultimately have on how long Johnson decides to race?