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How Jimmie Johnson helped a friend in need

Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 - Practice

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 07: Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, talks to his crew chief, Tony Gibson (L), in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 7, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

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CHARLOTTE -- Tony Gibson didn’t mince words – or take action -- when it came to losing pounds.

“No, I was pretty happy with being fat,” the crew chief for Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Chevrolet cracks when asked if he ever had been inclined to get serious about fitness.

Fortunately for Gibson, who has battled a swath of health problems from kidney stones to an appendectomy over the past few years, he didn’t need to take the initiative for improving his health.

Jimmie Johnson did it for him.

“(Gibson) was so welcoming to me when I came into (NASCAR),” the six-time series champion said during the preseason Media Tour last month. “He was just on my mind. I knew he had a couple of medical issues. I just wanted to help.

“I didn’t know if he was in a place to receive help or wanted help, but I just threw a softball out there and said, ‘Man, I’ll do anything. If I can, I’ll get you hooked up with my trainer even though it sounds very daunting. We’ll find a way. We’ll get you on the right path.’ He was in the right space and ready to go and has really made some big changes in his life.”

Since beginning a regimen last fall with personal trainer Jamey Yon, Gibson has dropped 36 pounds while embracing a new diet that limits his daily caloric intake and prohibits food after 7 p.m.

Gibson also has exercised daily with walking, situps and planking (“a pain in the butt”). He said he feels much better, and his fireplug physique looked significantly trimmer when he met with reporters last month.

If Johnson hadn’t nudged him in the direction of Yon, an accomplished marathoner and Ironman triathlete, Gibson probably wouldn’t have been proactive.

“All the doctors tell you (that) you need to get healthy,” Gibson said. “When Jimmie came to me, obviously he cared enough about me to try to help me get healthy. I figured if he was willing to put the effort in, that I should at least give it a whirl. It hasn’t been that bad.

“It’s a little tough during the winter time. Jimmie told me during the winter, the best thing is to maintain your weight. It’s really hard during the holidays and when the time changes and it’s hard to go out at night and make things work.”

Gibson has moved an exercise bike upstairs in his house that he rides every night for 30 minutes to help ensure he’s tired enough to sleep well. He also has cut out soft drinks in favor of diet lemonade and unsweetened tea.

Yon has checked in via text, as has Johnson, continuing a friendship that started 20 years ago. In 1996, Gibson met Johnson at a Chevrolet event in Phoenix while the future Sprint Cup star still was running stadium trucks.

When Johnson arrived at Hendrick Motorsports as a rookie in the No. 48 Chevrolet, Gibson was a car chief on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24. He was assigned to help get Johnson and the rest of the new team assimilated.

“He was a really cool guy,” Gibson said. “It’s really inspiring. His work ethic was through the roof and so it inspired you to do better.

“That’s what I’ve liked about him the most. He’s never changed since the first day I met him. He’s the same guy. You can walk up to him and talk to him. He’ll call you. You see him with fans all the time. He’s just the same guy. He has a bad day, he finds a positive. He’s a true champion to our sport. But as a friend, there’s no better guy to have as a buddy and as a friend.”

Johnson said all he needed to give Gibson was a friendly push.

“He’s made the most of it, and I’m proud of him,” Johnson said. “Not only does he look so much better and younger, he just feels good. It warms me up inside knowing I’ve helped him up some.”