JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - Jimmie Johnson will race for his sixth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship when the Chase begins Sunday, but on Saturday he had another number on his mind: 36.
The California native turned 36 and celebrated by qualifying 12th for Sunday's race. How was he celebrating?
``5:30 is dinner. 6:15 is bath for (daughter) Genevieve and then at 7:00, she's down,'' Johnson said of his one-year old. ``We can't make noise in the motor home.''
The birthday festivities might be subdued in the Johnson home-away-from-home, but other drivers were quick to remind him that no one escapes the passage of time - even five-time champions.
``This is a special day for Jimmie,'' said Carl Edwards with a wry smile. ``When I was a kid I heard stories about him racing from my grandparents.''
Added Ryan Newman: ``I liked watching Jimmie back in the Roman chariot days. He's really good with one horse.''
``He's never going to catch me - in age,'' joked Matt Kenseth. ``He's never lost a championship in his 30s.''
The birthday roast continued a big week for Johnson off the track. During a pep rally at a Texas high school near Fort Worth, he was asked to prom by a student.
``I told her I'd have to check my schedule and check with my wife,'' Johnson said.
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PIQUET'S JOB SEARCH: It's already known that Trucks Series driver Nelson Piquet Jr., of the soon to be defunct Kevin Harvick Inc. racing team, will need to find a new team for 2012.
The intrigue lies in whether that team will be in the Trucks Series or the Nationwide Series.
Following a third-place finish in Friday night's Trucks Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, the 25-year-old Brazilian indicated that although he's wary of making the jump too soon, the opportunity to move up to the Nationwide Series is attractive.
``For sure I would do it,'' said Piquet Jr., of a potential move to the Nationwide Series. ``I think maybe win a few races in trucks hopefully next year. I'm not in a hurry. I still have a lot to learn here.''
Piquet Jr. has nine top-10 finishes this year in 18 races in the Trucks Series. Last year, in his only career start in the Nationwide Series, he finished seventh on the road course at Watkins Glen.
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SAFETY FIRST: NASCAR announced a new program Saturday that will reward race fans and promote designated driving.
Starting with Sunday's race, of-age fans who pledge to be designated drivers at the track will be eligible for a chance to be crowned ``Designated Driver of the Race'' and win a trip to Las Vegas for the Sprint Cup Series Champion's Week.
MillerCoors and Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management (TEAM) Coalition partnered with NASCAR to launch the initiative. The ``Responsibility Has Its Rewards'' program kicks off in conjunction with the opening race in the Chase for the Cup at Chicagoland Speedway.
Tracks in New Hampshire, Charlotte, Talladega and Martinsville will participate over the course of the 10-race Chase. Fans also can register online at www.rhir.org.

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