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With Jeff Gordon out of driver’s seat, a new role emerges for Jimmie Johnson

Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400 - Qualifying

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 05: Jimmie Johnson (left), driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta/Penn State Chevrolet, talk on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 5, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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The speech done and celebration over, the final chapter of Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup driving career is complete.

As Gordon looks ahead to his broadcasting role with Fox next year and several other projects, Hendrick Motorsports looks to a new leader among its drivers.

Although Jimmie Johnson had two more championships than Gordon, Johnson admits it was Gordon who was the leader among the team’s drivers.

Now it’s Johnson’s role as the team’s senior driver.

“I’m going to be learning as the year goes on,’’ Johnson said at the Sprint Cup Awards last weekend in Las Vegas. “Just talking with Jeff in the last couple of months and understanding how much of a global view he’s had with Hendrick, the discussions he has with department heads and with Rick (Hendrick) and where things are going.

“He’s got a much larger snapshot of what is going on. For me, it’s kind of been the 48 and a little bit of the 88. So my scope is definitely going to broaden - the things that I pay attention to and maybe even the stuff that I know about. Like outside of my sponsorship deals and our test sessions, I don’t know what is going on with the other cars. I feel like that aspect of the business is going to be changing for me, and I’ll know much more of what is going on.’’

Johnson also says he looks to work closely with rookie Chase Elliott, who takes over Gordon’s No. 24 car in 2016.

“I’ve already seen a small changes in things in the way I see my role and what I’m going to be responsible for next year and that would also include helping Chase,’’ Johnson said. “I’ve been working with him for a few years already, and I think he’s a great talent and is going to do a really, really good job.’’

Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Johnson will be fine in the new role but Johnson won’t have to shoulder all the responsibility. Gordon remains part owner of Johnson’s team.

Jeff is going to be missed on the driver’s side of it, but he’s still going to be around, be pretty involved I’m sure in the company,’’ Earnhardt said. “I’m anxious to really see how he can continue to help and assist and drive the company forward because I really believe that he will still be a heavy influence and a great influence.’’

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