Jimmie Johnson: Why a Single Win in His NASCAR Return Would Be Significant for the Seven-Time Cup Series Champ
Johnson announced two days before the 2022 Cup Series championship race at Phoenix Raceway that he would join Petty GMS Racing as part-owner and part-time driver for the 2023 season.
That places Johnson in an ownership role with GMS Racing founder Maury Gallagher and fellow seven-time Cup Series champion Richard Petty. The organization will continue to field two full-time Cup Series teams and a Craftsman Truck Series team next season, while Johnson will run a select number of races.
Jimmie Johnson had one of the most successful Cup Series careers in NASCAR history
Johnson returns to NASCAR after a 23-year career that dates back to his first foray into the Xfinity Series at age 22 in 1998. After two full-time Xfinity Series seasons that included his lone win in the second-tier series at Chicagoland Speedway in 2001, Johnson joined Hendrick Motorsports to run the full 2022 Cup Series schedule and compete for the Rookie of the Year award.
He won three races and four pole awards en route to a fifth-place finish in the points standings, but Ryan Newman edged him in the rookie standings, which NASCAR calculated differently than the regular driver points standings at the time.
That began a 12-year run in which Johnson did not finish lower than sixth in the points standings, including his first six championships. He also won at least two races in each of those seasons and led more than 1,000 laps eight times.
It was one of the most dominant performances across any era in the sport dating back to perhaps his now-co-owner Petty’s incredible two-decade heyday from 1960-80 when he finished lower than sixth in the points standings just twice and captured all seven of his series titles.
Johnson won his last championship in 2016 and had three wins in 2017, but that was basically the end of his success. He did not win a race nor finish higher than 14th in the points standings in his final three years as a full-time driver.
Johnson retired from full-time NASCAR competition after the 2020 campaign and moved to the NTT IndyCar Series as a part-time driver the following year. That experiment expanded into a full-time ride this past season, but he managed only two top-10s in his 19 races across the two seasons.
Now Johnson is back in the series where he became a legend, and by doing so, he now has a chance to join other legends on the Cup Series all-time wins list.
Johnson sits one victory behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip on the all-time wins list
Johnson ended his full-time Cup Series career with 83 wins, one behind Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth among the 203 drivers who have ever won at least one race in the series.
Now, the accuracy of the tie between Allison and Waltrip is a long-running debate among people in the sport, especially Allison. He claims he should have one more win than Waltrip because he triumphed in a 1971 Cup Series race at Bowman Gray Stadium, but NASCAR officials refused to recognize him as the official winner because of the type of car he’d driven.
Johnson has sat one win behind the two Hall of Famers since a win in June 2017 at Dover Motor Speedway turned out to be the last victory of his career, at least to this point.
Which NASCAR events Johnson will participate in next season are still to be determined, aside from the Daytona 500, which could be one of the best chances for the two-time winner to record the 84th win of his Hall-of-Fame-caliber career.
It would be somewhat shocking to see a 47-year-old driver come out of retirement on a part-time basis and immediately win the biggest race of the year, but Johnson has accomplished the seemingly unthinkable several times before.
He still holds the record for the longest championship streak in the sport’s history, with five in a row from 2006-10, and he became the 12th driver to win at least four races in a row on his way to the 2007 championship. He is the all-time wins leader at Dover (11), Martinsville (nine), Charlotte (eight), and Texas (seven).
Perhaps Johnson’s comeback will be merely a nostalgia tour as his age approaches the same number that was on the side of his car for all of those championship years. Still, Petty GMS had competitive cars for much of the 2022 season, and Erik Jones won the first race for the organization in September at Darlington Raceway.
As the surprising news that Johnson will return to NASCAR settles in, the fact that he still has room to set more historical marks in the sport will start to come into focus, as well, especially if he has a fast car in February for Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.
Have thoughts on this topic? Keep the conversation rolling in our comments section below.