As Champion's Week for the Sprint Cup series got under way Monday, champion Jimmie Johnson was off on a whirlwind of activities to celebrate his historic fourth consecutive Cup title. But what makes this year different than Johnson's previous turns at the top is that there is no longer a party in New York -- this year, it's Vegas, baby, all the way.
NASCAR is embracing the move of its banquet from The Big Apple, but that doesn't mean that New York has been forgotten. Johnson, who has an apartment in Manhattan, enjoyed some time there last week, posing at the top of the Empire State Building with friend and New York Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon. Then it was on to Las Vegas.
One of the traditions of Champion's Week is a traditional landmark photo shoot. And one of the recognizable spots along the famed Las Vegas Strip where Johnson posed is the replica New York City skyline that makes up the New York New York Hotel & Casino. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus also took photos outside the Bellagio hotel and the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign at the very end of the Strip.
After the photos were taken, Johnson dashed to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where his fellow competitors got a little payback for four years of domination. The track hosted a charity roast of Johnson, with all 12 Chase drivers in attendance -- and none held back.
"I figured out a new Chase format," said Kurt Busch.
"Man, you've won four straight championships," said fellow four-time champion Jeff Gordon. "I used to be the man. Now you've got me on everything. At least my eyebrows are better than yours."
And there was this, from Hendrick Motorsports teammate and 2009 championship runner-up Mark Martin: "Jimmie has gotten a lot better looking. As a kid, he was ugly. He was so ugly that he had to trick-or-treat by telephone."
The roast was a benefit for Speedway Children's Charities.
Johnson's official inauguration will take place Friday night at Wynn's Las Vegas with host Frank Caliendo. Serving as the event's emcees will be Mike Joy and Krista Voda from NASCAR on FOX and SPEED. Musical acts will include singer/songwriter David Gray, a Grammy-nominated artist; and Escala, a female electric string quartet. Comedian John Pinette will also be featured.
SPEED will televise the event live from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. SIRIUS NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio will also broadcast the ceremony live.
Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at email@example.com.