Jimmie Johnson did not duck the tough questions Friday when he met a group of school children at Darlington Raceway. 

The first one? Why is Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring? 

"He feels it's time to do something different," Johnson told the inquisitive grade schooler. 

Johnson met with 27 elementary school students from the Darlington County School District and honored them for their high reading achievements during the summer. Johnson gave out gold medals in the newly named Earnhardt Tower suites to the cheering kids. 

Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR series champion, fielded questions about how he gets his race cars, how he gets to the track each week and how old you have to be to start racing. 

Johnson told the young girl that a racer must be 15 in order to drive in some NASCAR series. 

"Will your mom and dad sign off on that?" he asked. 

The girl shook her head no. 

Johnson had some words of encouragement for the youngsters. Any success starts with doing well in school and do not be afraid to try even if you fail. 

"Don't be afraid of mistakes that you make," he said. "It only makes you stronger and helps you grow." 

Johnson will compete in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday night. He's looking for his fourth Darlington win overall and first since 2012.