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July 28, 2014

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2013 NASCAR Champion’s Week photos: Jimmie Johnson celebrates sixth win in eight years

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Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau

Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is interviewed after the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Awards at Wynn Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.

2013 NASCAR Champion’s Week: Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson stands with his sixth championship trophy after the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Awards at Wynn Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Launch slideshow »

2013 NASCAR Awards red carpet/Richard Corey

2013 NASCAR Champion’s Week: Victory Lap

Jimmie Johnson and Robin Leach at the Victory Lap for 2013 NASCAR Champion’s Week on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, on the Strip in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

2013 NASCAR Champion’s Week: Fan Fest at FSE

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. attend Fan Fest at Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, for 2013 NASCAR Champion's Week. Launch slideshow »

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards began with fireworks from host Jay Mohr and ended with an appreciation for family and fans and a nod to the Hall of Fame path set forth by the night’s honoree, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who closed the night celebration the late Nelson Mandela.

Before Jimmie took the stage Friday night at Wynn Las Vegas three hours into awards, John Mellencamp opened the annual celebration with two of his hits, giving way to Jay, who proved that nobody was off limits from his pointed humor. (A big thanks to NASCAR for this report.)

The comedian took shots at everyone from future Hall of Famers Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon to this year’s rookie candidates Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Acknowledging backlash on social media about his jabs at Danica, Jay backed off his monologue. Camera breakaways to Danica, who is co-hosting Tuesday’s 2013 American Country Awards with Trace Adkins at Mandalay Bay Events Center, and her boyfriend Ricky showed that the couple was less than amused by the jokes Jay made at their expense.

“I know you aren’t used to being this close to the front,” Jay said of Danica’s table toward the stage. And after further shots about them wrecking with each other, Danica used the opportunity to respond while accepting a Sprint Fan Choice Award for winning the pole position for the Daytona 500.

“I’m so fortunate to have so many fans, but it’s pretty safe to say Jay Mohr is not one of them,” she said. When Jay returned to the stage, he said that his Twitter feed had been blowing up about the Danica wisecracks.

Insisting that he wanted to set the record straight, Jay said, “I could not be a bigger Danica fan. I love Danica Patrick, so save your tweets, haters.” Later, Clint Bowyer told media, “You better get your cameras out because Danica may kick his ass.”

The laughs gave way to poignancy. The awards turned to more serious and respectful tributes to Jimmie’s sixth championship run in eight years. Jimmie’s team owner Rick Hendrick congratulated his “hero” Roger Penske for the Nationwide Series owners’ championship and called Jeff his “biggest recruiter” for urging him to hire Jimmie.

Championship runner-up Matt Kenseth joked that Jimmie should “seriously contemplate retirement. Take up new hobbies! Enjoy yourself! We’ll all chip in.”

Jimmie, who partied after the awards at Surrender in the adjacent Encore with Dale, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and singer Gavin DeGraw, was humbled by the words about him throughout the evening from Series sponsors, NASCAR execs and his competitors. When spoken of alongside the only other six-time champions, Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie was moved.

“To do something only those two have done is crazy and wild, and we’re all indebted to them,” he said. Then after thanking his team, Rick, crew chief Chad Knaus (who sat with Jimmie’s 3-year-old daughter Genevieve at the head table), fans and his family, Jimmie quoted from Mandela to end the evening.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way little else does,” Jimmie said. “That’s true. And that’s NASCAR.”

Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

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