January 6th, 2011
Robert Johnson III, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson, will move to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East this year. (Adam Fenwick Photo)
HARRISBURG, N.C. — Junior Johnson is returning to NASCAR as a team owner in 2011, fielding a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East team called Junior Johnson Racing for his 17-year-old son Robert Johnson III.
For the younger Johnson the move comes on the heels of a successful rookie season in the UARA-STARS Late Model Series, where he finished fourth in points and earned top rookie honors despite not visiting victory lane.
Talking to NSSN by phone Wednesday afternoon, R. Johnson said the decision to move up after only one season racing late models would help him in the long run by teaching him how to adapt to different styles of race cars.
“I’m really excited about it,” R. Johnson said. “I’ve been racing for a couple years. I started out in the sportsman division down at Caraway Speedway and I moved up to late models last year with JKS Motorsports and raced the whole year. We sort of parted ways with them and I felt like it was time to move on up, so we decided we were going to go East racing and still do a little bit [with] late models.
“I feel like I’m experienced enough to be able to move up. There’s obviously a certain amount of pressure in any racing series, but I feel like I’m capable of handling that right now,” he said. “Being able to get to the East series and not spending a lot of time in late models is really going to help me in the long run because I won’t get accustom to driving one type of car and then not be adaptable. That’s an important skill to have.”
The decision for R. Johnson to make his move to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East wasn’t made overnight. He said that while the announcement came this week, it had “been in the works since November.”
“We made sure we got all the stuff organized,” he said. “We bought a couple cars from Red Bull Racing. We wanted to make sure we had the structure in place to be able to race.”
Robert Johnson III (left) talks with his father Junior Johnson at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway in 2010. (Adam Fenwick Photo)
That structure comes in the form of Keith Barnwell, the former general manger of the Tri-Star Motorsports Nationwide Series operation who has been named JJR’s executive vice president and general manager. Also joining the team, which will be based on Junior Johnson’s farm, are veteran mechanics Craig Hermann and Robbie Harrison.
The only thing that may slow the team down is sponsorship, which at this point it lacks. Without backing, R. Johnson said the team could potentially cut back and run only a partial schedule in 2011. The team also hasn’t decided on a manufacturer yet.
“We are definitely in the hunt for primary sponsorship,” he said. “Right now we’re sort of going solo, but I feel confident that we’re going to get a sponsor.”
It would be understandable if, at 17 years old, Johnson were nervous about moving into a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East car while driving for his legendary father. But if he’s nervous, he certainly isn’t showing it.
“He never really pushed me into racing, but I think he is really excited that I’m following in his career path,” he said. “I have that pressure, but it’s sort of a good thing. It sort of allows me to have a drive that some other people might not have. It sort of motivates me. I think the motivational aspect of it outweighs the negative aspect of the pressure.”