Jason Johnson dies from injuries suffered in a World of Outlaws race

SONOMA, Calif. -- NASCAR drivers, preparing to compete Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, mourned World of Outlaws sprint car driver Jason Johnson, who died Sunday morning from injuries suffered in a crash at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway. He was 41.

Johnson was battling Kasey Kahne Racing's Daryn Pittman for the lead on Lap 18 on Saturday when Johnson's car flipped violently heading into Turn 3, hitting billboards (there was no catch fence in that area) and possibly the wall before landing outside the dirt track.

"With the same courage, passion and vigor that he raced with each night, he fought valiantly to the end," Jason Johnson Racing said in a statement. "His love of life and sprint car racing was only surpassed by his deep and authentic love for his family, friends, competitors and fans.

"He never met a stranger, and certainly never met anyone that he was not willing to help or provide guidance. It is that giving and caring spirit that we will all forever miss."

Johnson won five championships in the ASCS Sprint Car Dirt Series, a series that mostly competes in the plains, southwest and western parts of the country, as well as the prestigious 2016 Knoxville Nationals. Known as the "Ragin' Cajun," the Louisiana native had two World of Outlaws wins this year.

NASCAR Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Johnson partnered to form Stenhouse Johnson Racing in 2010, and Johnson won a couple of ASCS titles as part of the partnership.

Several NASCAR drivers compete occasionally in the World of Outlaws. Stenhouse, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne have competed in the series this year.

"You never want to see it happen in any sport, but it hits a little closer to home when it's the sport you grew up doing and you're still a part of every now and then," said Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse, who partnered with Johnson as a co-owner of Johnson's sprint-car team from 2010-2012, said he has known Johnson for more than 20 years as Stenhouse's uncle built chassis for Johnson.

"He was the toughest competitor that there was. ... He was one of the best," Stenhouse said. "He was the true car owner [and] driver, and it's tough to do that these days. A lot of people respected him being able to do that."

Johnson's family was heavily involved in his racing, with his cousin as crew chief and wife, Bobbi, handling several duties. Bobbi has endured racing tragedy previously, as she had been engaged to Kevin Gobrecht, who was killed in 1999. The World of Outlaws rookie award is named for him.

"It was cool to see him live out his dream to race World of Outlaws full time," Stenhouse said. "To see him win the [Knoxville] Nationals and win Outlaws races and win with his [young] son Jaxx being able to be there.

"It was a good run for him. It sucks that he didn't get to keep going. I feel sorry for [wife] Bobbi and Jaxx. Their whole deal was family-oriented. ... They kept it a tight-knit group and a tight-knit family and made it work."

Stenhouse also said he felt bad for Pittman.

"Obviously you don't want to be a part of something like that, but in sprint car racing or any racing, it's easy to be part of that on accident," Stenhouse said.