Jimmie Johnson will be honored this weekend at the NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway. He's retiring at the end of the year. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Jimmie Johnson will be honored this weekend at the NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway. He's retiring at the end of the year. (AP Photo/LM Otero)|Associated Press

Eckel's Auto Club 400 Notes: Jimmie Johnson to be honored, the No. 24 car and Axalta remember Kobe Bryant, early odds, practice schedule

Mark Eckel

Jimmie Johnson has been to victory lane six times at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Ca. He’s won there in his 20s, 30s, and 40s. The first of his career 83 wins came there.

So Sunday in his final race in the Auto Club 400, Johnson, the El Cajon native who announced his retirement at the end of the season, will be honored before the start of he race.

There will be a tribute video highlighting Johnson’s six wins here and his illustrious career. His wife Chandra and daughters Genevieve and Lydia will be the starters and wave the green flag. His long-time friend Ricky Johnson will drive the pace car.

Also well-known Los Angeles area artist Jonas Never will unveil a 19 x 24 mural of Johnson’s greatest races over the years.

And finally the road outside the track will be named Jimmie Johnson Drive and will intersect with Jeff Gordon Way.

“Yeah, everybody loves a mural of themselves,” Johnson told Jim Alexander of the Press- Enterprise. “I mean, I probably shouldn’t let it do that to me, but it does. I don’t know. I’ve been in the spotlight for 20 years. You’d think I’d be a little desensitized (to) it all, but it’s just kind of not my thing. But I’m very thankful that the track thinks so much of me, and I know my fan base in the area is huge. And in the end it’s a great thing.”

Honoring Kobe: Hendrick Motor Sports No. 24 car driven by William Byron will be purple and gold Sunday to honor the late NBA star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others passed away in a helicopter accident last month. Auto Club Speedway is just about an hour from Los Angeles where Bryant starred for 20 years as one of the NBA’s best players and a five-time champion with the Lakers.

In honor of the victims, Axalta will make a donation to After-School All-Stars, a non-profit organization where Bryant served as a National Ambassador. Its locations include Los Angeles and Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia where Axalta is based. Proceeds from the sale of die-cast replicas of the car will be donated to After-School All-Stars by Byron, 12-time NASCAR Cup Series champions Hendrick Motorsports and collectibles manufacturer Lionel. Collectible die-cast replicas of the car will be available for pre-order beginning later this evening at LionelRacing.com.

“We continue to pray for all of the families,” Byron said in a story on HendrickMotorsports.com. “It’s humbling to be able to run such a special car, especially in the Los Angeles area. I’m a huge sports fan and followed Kobe’s career really closely like so many other people. He left a legacy that goes beyond basketball and has reached across all of the sports world and into many different communities where he gave back. I’m very happy that Axalta wanted to do this, and I hope to make everyone proud in the No. 24 on Sunday.”

Early Odds: Defending champ Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who has finished in the top 10 here eight straight years, are co-favorites at 5-1. Joey Logano (6-1), Kyle Larson (7-1), Brad Keselowski (7-1) and Martin Truex Jr. (7-1) round out the top six.

Fontana Schedule: Friday’s first practice is at 4:05 EST, with the final practice slated for 5:35. Saturday’s qualifying is at 2:35 and all can be seen live on Fox Sports 1.

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