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Jimmie Johnson racing with heavy heart after brother-in-law’s death

Apr 5, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT

Jimmie Johnson AP

Prior to beginning the Duck Commander 500 weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson thanked the NASCAR community and its fans for their support following the death of his brother-in-law earlier this week.

27-year-old skydiver and instructor Jordan Janway, who was the brother of Johnson’s wife, Chandra, lost his life after colliding in mid-air with another diver in a training session. His parachute failed to open in the incident.

“I appreciate the opportunity to say thank you to everybody for your thoughts and prayers,” Johnson said to reporters at TMS. “This week has been a very difficult week for the Janway family. It’s been so tough for me to sit back and watch the people I love so much deal with so much pain.

“But, things are progressing and everybody is as good as you could hope. Last night, the family spent a lot of time telling stories about Jordan and smiling a little bit; smiling more than tears, and the healing process has definitely started.”

Johnson noted that he hadn’t had time to think about putting some sort of memorial to Janway on his car or his helmet. He hailed the young man as “a free spirit.”

“Base-jumping and parachuting and wearing the squirrel suits like you see the guys flying along the cliff sides – that’s what he did,” Johnson recalled. “He’s in a lot of those videos shooting that footage. So, it was a tragic death for sure.

“But he was doing something he loved. He was very passionate about it. And he never met a stranger. He was a very warm and caring young man and he’s definitely going to be missed.”

But while he and his family mourn their loss, Johnson is also getting on with the business of racing. So far, he’s yet to visit Victory Lane in 2014 but is the most recent winner at Texas after putting on a dominant run there last fall en route to winning his sixth Cup championship.

A blown tire with seven laps to go cost him the win two weeks ago at Fontana (which went to Kyle Busch), and last weekend at Martinsville, he lost a hard duel with Kurt Busch.

But as Johnson has remained competitive, his confidence has not yet ebbed.

“If there’s a race or two to go and I don’t have a victory, it’s definitely going to change my opinion then, but I’ve built so much over the last 13 years with a certain mindset that myself and the team – we’re just not in the position to change that mindset yet,” he said.

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