- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 18, 2013

EL CAJON, CALIF. (AP) - Ready to thrill a few hundred school kids, Jimmie Johnson hopped into a replica of his No. 48 car to fire up the engine.

The battery was dead.

He and some members of his group tried to bump start the car. That just bashed in the show car’s bumper, led to some odd grinding noises and the car started leaking oil.

Undaunted, the NASCAR star jogged through the parking lot to the grass plot where the kids were gathered, chanting his name.

It was an appropriate entrance, considering that Johnson was at Chase Avenue Elementary in his hometown to check out a jogging track that was built with a Jimmie Johnson Foundation/Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Champions Grant.

“I thought, `Well, since we’re running around the track, I’ll just run on in,’” Johnson said.

Johnson, the Sprint Cup points leader, ran a lap with some of the kids and his young daughter, Evie.

The school received a grant in 2010 to build the jogging track and install a large grass plot that has baseball backstops on both ends.

Principal Sue Geller said the area had been a sloped dirt plot. “When the rains came, there were crevices that would be great for an archaeological dig but not for exercise,” she said.

“That was the reality for Chase for 60 years,” she said. “We never thought we’d get any grass. We just kind of accepted it.”

The school not only got a grant from Johnson’s foundation, but the school district added some funding, too.

Geller found out three months ago that Johnson wanted to visit the school in this blue-collar community on the eastern edge of San Diego’s suburban sprawl.

Johnson, who won five straight Sprint Cup championships from 2006-10, congratulated the kids for their accomplishments in the school’s running club.

“I’m so happy that all of you are running and focused on that because when you get old like us, it will make a difference, I promise,” said Johnson, who was one of four drivers who ran a half marathon before pole qualifying for the Daytona 500, which he won for the second time.

Johnson said his foundation gives about $1 million a year, mostly to schools, in El Cajon; Muskogee, Okla., where his wife, Chandra, grew up; and in Charlotte, N.C., where they live.

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