Jimmie Johnson recently retired as an active NASCAR driver, and in doing so the 45-year-old joins the ranks of the all-time greats to drive on the circuit. His career highlights and accomplishments can match up with virtually any stock car driver that came before him.
The elite company that Johnson finds himself among includes legendary racers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. As Johnson was wrapping up his 20-year career, he paid tribute to those other two drivers who are both household names in the sport.
Jimmie Johnson’s career accomplishments
Johnson won seven NASCAR season championships during his career, including five straight — the only man to achieve such a streak. He walks away with 83 wins, which puts him sixth all-time in Cup Series history.
His career accomplishments include two victories in the Daytona 500 — NASCAR’S biggest race — and four Coca-Cola 600 wins. Johnson was named Driver of the Year five times, and he won the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year Award in 2009, when he won seven races on the way to his fourth consecutive season championship.
Comparing Jimmie Johnson to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt
Sports Illustrated interviewed Johnson about his career and legacy in NASCAR, including his thoughts on Petty and Earnhardt. When you compare Johnson’s career stats to those of Petty and Earnhardt, he matches up pretty well with those NASCAR icons.
That threesome represents the only three drivers in NASCAR history who have seven-season titles to their names. Johnson sits between Petty and Earnhardt in terms of Cup Series victories; Petty is the all-time leader with 200 victories in the top series, and Earnhardt had 76.
With the two earlier drivers, you could have seen such success coming because they were both second-generation drivers from North Carolina, so racing was in their lineage, and they grew up in the South, where many of NASCAR’s best drivers are from.
That’s not the case with Johnson, who didn’t have any family members who preceded him in NASCAR, and he grew up in California surfing and racing motorcycles; he didn’t grow up in the region with a rich history in NASCAR.
In the chat, Sports Illustrated asked Johnson how much he knew about Petty and Earnhardt while growing up in California. He said he “knew the names,” but he would only get to see bits of NASCAR on TV.
He recalled seeing Petty in person at a race in Riverside, Calif., and discussed the “media being a bit better” with Earnhardt, but as a Jeff Gordon fan, he had a rivalry going with his brother, who cheered for Earnhardt.
Paying tribute to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt
When Johnson raced at Darlington in September, he paid tribute to Petty and Earnhardt by wearing gear that represented them. He wore Earnhardt’s sunglasses, which he got when Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s aunt — who had them — drove from Virginia to North Carolina, where she handed them off to No. 88 crew chief Greg Ives, who was at a go-kart track with his kids.
Ives then brought the glasses to the track at Darlington, where they were sitting on the doorstep of Johnson’s bus. At that race, Johnson wore a hat that resembled one worn by Petty, but it wasn’t the genuine article. The hat that Johnson wore, according to what he told Sports Ilustrated, was a replica of Petty’s hat that Petty gave him at a race in 2008.
Jimmie Johnson’s not done yet
While Johnson has retired from NASCAR, his racing career isn’t completely over yet. In 2021, he will drive a road course-only schedule in IndyCar for Chip Ganassi Racing, the team for which he drove in NASCAR.
When asked Johnson about transitioning to IndyCar, he said he is doing it for the “experience” more than performance. Johnson says he wanted to be an IndyCar driver when he was a kid, so he is going to check that off his bucket list because “doing bucket list items” is his plan in “the next chapter” of his life.