Who Is Jimmie Johnson In NASCAR?
One of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, Jimmie Johnson is still competing full time in the open-wheel IndyCar Series today. Tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most NASCAR Cup Series Championship titles ever, Johnson is arguably the best stock car racing driver of the modern era. But who is Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR? Keep reading to learn more about the champion whose legend is still being written.
Jimmie Johnson grew up in El Cajon, California, where he started racing off-road motorcycles at age four. At seven, he won the championship in the 60cc class. After that, he began racing buggies and off-road sport trucks in various classes of the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG) Stadium Racing Series.
Johnson won championships in several stadium and desert racing classes in MTEG, then moved on to the Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association (SODA), driving short-course Trophy Trucks for Herzog Motorsports. There, he finished third in the 1997 Class 8 Championship.
During his early twenties, Johnson was also competing in desert races like the grueling Baja 1000 in the SCORE International (Southern California Off Road Enthusiasts) off-road racing series. In total, Johnson’s early off-road racing efforts across the MTEG, SODA, and SCORE series netted him 25 wins, six championships, and a Rookie of the Year commendation in each of the three series.
Still with Herzog Motorsports, Johnson began stock car racing in 1998, driving full-time in the ASA National Tour Series. Over two years and 40 starts, he achieved two wins and 31 top-ten finishes. In the same two-year period, Johnson made eight starts in the Busch (now Xfinity) Series (also for Herzog), marking his first experience in a national NASCAR series. For the next two seasons, he went full-time Busch Series racing with Herzog, taking home his first NASCAR win in the 2001 Hills Bros. Coffee 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Around this time, Johnson caught the attention of Jeff Gordon (then the lead Cup Series driver at Hendrick Motorsports), who subsequently recruited him. Johnson drove in four Cup Series races for Hendrick in 2001, making his debut in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In the 2002 season, Johnson moved to a full-time Cup Series ride in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Lowe’s-sponsored Chevrolet, a fourth team car fielded especially for him. Johnson had a strong rookie season in the Cup Series, taking the pole at the Daytona 500, getting his first win in the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at Auto Club Speedway, and narrowly missing out on Rookie of the Year to Ryan Newman.
For the next few years, Jimmie Johnson turned in respectable seasons, but 2006 was when he began to break out as a NASCAR superstar. That year, he won five races, the Cup Series Championship, and Driver of the Year. This was the beginning of an unprecedented period of dominance that has not been repeated. For the next four years, Johnson successfully defended his title, setting a NASCAR record with five consecutive Cup Series Championships.
Although his streak was spoiled by Tony Stewart’s championship win in 2011, Johnson managed to take home two more Cup Series titles in 2013 and 2016. This put him in a three-way tie with legends Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most Cup Series Championships ever.
IndyCar and IMSA
In 2020, Jimmie Johnson announced that year would be his last full-time season of NASCAR racing. Although he was already recognized as one of the best racing drivers of all time, he had not had a win in the Cup Series since 2017 and was looking for new opportunities. That same year, he ran an IndyCar test for Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR). The test went well, and CGR offered Johnson a part-time IndyCar ride for the 2021 season.
The 2021 NTT IndyCar season was a period of adjustment for Johnson. Only racing the road and street courses and avoiding the more dangerous ovals, he ran mostly at the back of the pack, getting accustomed to new cars and tracks. However, Johnson decided he would race full-time in 2022, again for CGR in his No. 48 Honda.
Beginning in 2021, Johnson has also been competing in the endurance races on the IMSA SportsCar Championship schedule (24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, and Petit Le Mans), driving the No. 48 Cadillac in the DPi class for the Ally Cadillac team. His best finish so far is second place in the 2021 24 Hour of Daytona.