As Nascar’s regular season came to a close, so did a reality for most NASCAR fans. Growing up in Daytona Beach, the birthplace of NASCAR and the famous Daytona 500, I was a massive fan of the sport. I was amazed watching Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and numerous other legends race. Although I grew up a Jeff Gordon fan, it was no question to me nor anybody else who watched NASCAR that Jimmie Johnson was and is simply the Michael Jordan of the sport. In this article, I’m going to tribute the career and legacy of Nascar’s All-time greatest, Jimmie Johnson.
On September 17, 1975, Jimmie Johnson was born in El Cajon, California. Johnson started racing motorcycles at the age of four, and in high school, he was a three-sport varsity athlete in water polo, diving, and swimming. By age 8, JJ won so many different off-road races and go-kart races that it was too much to list. Let’s say he was a complete natural. In 1998 he would start his professional asphalt career in the Busch series, and then after torching everyone there for four years, he would finally make his way into the NASCAR Winston Cup Series (2002 full time).
At the start of Johnson’s career in 2002, he was already a star. He was the first rookie to ever lead in the NASCAR points standings and added three wins as a rookie (swept Dover). In his second season, Johnson finished ninth on the all-time list for consecutive weeks ranked in the top ten in points with 69. He would win three races that season, including the Coca Cola 600, another sweep at New Hampshire, and added an all-star race victory. The 2005 season was solid for him, falling five points shy of a championship, but the reasons for making Jimmie Johnson the greatest NASCAR racer would only follow.
2006-2010 was known as “the streak”, for JJ. He won five straight championships that were and still are the biggest championship streak In NASCAR history. Beginning with 2006, Johnson recorded five wins, most notably the DAYTONA 500. He ended with 13 top-five and 24 top-ten finishes, which would push him to his first-ever NASCAR championship.
In 2007, Jimmie Johnson totaled a mind-boggling ten wins, 20 top-five, and 24 top-ten finishes. Johnson was near perfect this season. It was the season that people started to realize just how talented Jimmie Johnson was. He would not only go on to his second-straight title but after rigorous training, he would be the first racer named Associated Press Male Athlete of the year.
2008 would be no different for JJ. He recorded seven wins, 15 top-five, and 22 top-ten finishes. He was the first driver to win at least three races every season for the first three seasons of their career. Johnson would once again win another title and would become only the third driver ever to win three consecutive chips.
In the 2009 season, Jimmie Johnson would stamp his legacy as the greatest of all time with his fourth straight title, the first ever to do so. He won seven races that season, extending his three wins a season streak, and added 16 top-five finishes. If you thought by 2010, Jimmie would finally quit, you were wrong. He did the unthinkable, winning a fifth consecutive title. He finished the season with six wins, 17 top-five, and 23 top-ten finishes. Although this would be the end of the streak, it was the most impressive thing that has ever happened in NASCAR history, and on top of that, JJ had more gas in the tank.
2011 was a lousy year for JJ, as he only recorded two wins, but he would bounce back in 2012, winning five races and registering over 13 top-five finishes. He would go to the championship race, where he dominated all race until he got in an unlucky accident that would end his championship rebirth.
In 2013, Jimmie Johnson would return to championship form with an impressive season. He was neck and neck with Matt Kenseth during the chase up until the last four races, where he went primetime Jimmie Johnson mode. By seasons end, Johnson finished with six wins, 16 top-five, and 24 top-ten finishes. He finished the season with title number six, one behind the tie for most all-time (seven).
2014 was the first year of the NASCAR playoffs, and it was not a good year for Jimmie. He won three regular-season races and advanced from the first round of the playoffs. But in the second round, he went on the wreck twice, diminishing his hopes to another championship.
In 2015, Jimmie would bounce back, winning five races in the regular season, including one at Dover, which gave him ten all-time. In the chase, it was a disappointment. He finished 11th, sixth, and then wrecked in the last bubble race leading him to 36th place, which knocked him out.
2016 was a historical season for Jimmie. Although he only won two regular-season races, his chase would be incredible. After three top-five finishes in round one, he would advance to the round of 12, where he would win The Bank Of America 500, putting him into the NASCAR semifinals. After a 23rd place finish for Johnson at Talladega, he had to win at Martinsville to make the championship race. Johnson went on to win, leading the race’s last 92 laps into the championship once again. In the championship race, Jimmie Johnson dude nothing special until the final ten laps of the race. He took advantage of a caution that took two championship contenders out of the race (Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards). He would pass Kyle Larson on the race’s last lap to win another race and his seventh title, tying him first with Dale Earnhardt Sr. And Richard Petty.
The rest of Johnson’s career would consist of three years of not doing much and mentoring young drivers. He combined his three final years with eight wins and no title contention. In 2020, Johnson announced it to be his last season in NASCAR. Although he did not win and missed the chase for the first time in his career, he is getting his recognition as the greatest NASCAR racer of all time.
It is sad to watch Jimmie Johnson leave the sport. Still, after a great and historical career, it is a time to celebrate and commemorate his legacy, for we have witnessed the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time.