NEW YORK - The only time the smile has left Jimmie Johnson's face this week is when somebody mentioned his upcoming appearance on stage last night at NASCAR's annual awards ceremony.
There hasn't been much else to frown about for Johnson in 2007, a season in which he improved on most of his 2006 numbers on the way to a second straight Nextel Cup championship.
"I've been having a great time since I crossed the finish line at Homestead [two weeks ago], knowing that we had the championship wrapped up," Johnson said. "But every time I think about making that speech, I get a little bit of nerves and wish that part was over. We're not trained for that kind of stuff."
At least this time, Johnson managed to prepare the speech early in the week. Last year, the then-new champion kept putting it off because, first, he couldn't figure out how to get started, and, once he did get going, he couldn't figure out how to cram all the thank yous into the allotted time.
"That's the hardest part of it," Johnson said as he prepared to step onto the stage at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to collect another big payout. "You want to thank everybody who ever did anything to help you get to this point and, believe me, that's a lot of people."
The banquet was highlighted by a tribute to Bill France Jr., the late NASCAR chairman who died in June at the age of 74.
There was a moving tribute by longtime TV anchorman and France friend Tom Brokaw, who said France, known to everyone as Bill Jr., was the "personification of the American dream."
Johnson collected the winner's share of the huge season and points fund payout. He collected a record $15,770,125 last year and came up just a little short of that this year at $15,313,920, including $7,646,421 from the season points fund.
That brings Johnson's career earnings to $59,531,336.
There were plenty more big checks handed out, with the largest top 10 points fund payout in series history at $24,068,732.
Series runner-up Jeff Gordon collected $10,926,687 and raised his all-time leading earnings total to $93,300,213. Kevin Harvick, who finished 10th, took home $8,861,128.
The ceremony was the conclusion to a spectacular season for Johnson, who doubled his wins in his second championship season, jumping from five in 2006 to 10 this year. He had another 24 top-10 finishes, but raised his top-fives from 13 to 20.
The other 11 drivers in the Chase also were given big checks, along with 13th-place finisher Ryan Newman and rookie of the year Juan Pablo Montoya.