Jimmie Johnson has heard questions about his NASCAR future throughout this career-worst season, especially since a recent extension of primary sponsor Ally came without a new driver deal.
Soon, he knows the definitive question about how much longer the seven-time champion will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet in Cup will come from the most important person of all: team owner Rick Hendrick.
"I've got to start spending some time on it first and foremost, because in the next four to six months, Rick is going to start asking me," Johnson told NASCAR on NBC's Jeff Burton in an exclusive sitdown interview that will air Sunday on NBC before the race at Kansas Speedway (coverage will begin at 1 p.m. ET). "I know it's out there."
Has the Hendrick Motorsports owner asked about whether Johnson's future will include racing in Cup beyond the end of his current contract (which expires after the 2020 season)?
"He's hinted," said Johnson, who turned 44 last month. "He hasn't put the true pressure on me yet. I'm very thankful to have Rick as an owner and to be in this position with Ally that, 'Hey look, we're going to (sponsor the car). We want you as long as you want to drive.'
"I don't think many drivers get that opportunity. So I'm so thankful for that. I want to keep racing. I'd like to not race 38 times a year at some point in the next couple of years. I love racing in general. I love our sport. I want to be involved in our sport. I also love other types of racing. I've got to balance family, the schedule and then some other goals that I have to complete in other series, too, at the same time and make a decision on all that within four to six months."
Johnson said on Wednesday night's NASCAR America Motor Mouths that he remains interested in running IndyCar races on road courses.
He told Burton that he would make the decision with the input of Jeff Gordon (who hand-picked Johnson to drive for Hendrick); longtime friends such as Rick Johnson; his wife, Chandra and their two young daughters, Genevieve, 9, and Lydia, 6.
"My kids, in this next phase of my life, need to have a seat at the table when we have that conversation. All that is going to be very difficult to communicate with a 6-year-old. I don't know how that's going to work out, but I want her to be a part of it.
And of course, he also will rely on the advice of Hendrick, whom he has driven for since entering the Cup Series in 2002.
"He's like a dad, and everybody who has worked for him knows that," Johnson said. "In some ways, that takes a lot of pressure off. In other ways, it puts pressure on.
"It's a big decision that I know he doesn't want to put unneeded pressure on me for, and I feel like through his experiences with drivers retiring, he doesn't want to push on a driver staying any longer than they feel like they want to, so I think we're in a good spot, and we'll just see where it ends up here. Hopefully, I can defer as long as I can and wait maybe nine months, but I don't think that's really going to happen."
Processing the decision probably will be tabled until after the final five races of the 2019 season.
Johnson said he is most focused on ending a 90-race winless drought that dates to June 4, 2017 at Dover International Speedway. He is encouraged that his qualifying and finishing averages are "way up" since the arrival of crew chief Cliff Daniels two months ago.
"I really feel like there aren't any big obstacles ahead of us," Johnson said. "Cliff has really brought me back up and has me so excited and so ready for each and every week, that I'm in the best place I've been mentally for years. So, absolutely, I am ready for this fight.
"I expect to win this year."
Johnson, who has 83 career victories, missed the playoffs this year for the first time since NASCAR introduced the postseason structure in 2004. On Motor Mouths, he told Kyle Petty and Marty Snider about the lack of respect he feels he's received from playoff drivers (video below).
"I used to be feared on the track and there was a certain level of respect that took place," he said. "That hasn't been there in a couple of years. I've been used up way more (by other drivers), and I've let it slide. I'm not where I should be. I get it.
"But when my car is right, I expect that same respect back. And I'm not getting that respect back. And I just have to go fight for it."