Nobody has represented NASCAR in the 21st century more than Jimmie Johnson. A seven-time winner of the main series, the man famed for leading his #48 car to victory lane on countless occasions blended two schools of thought to great effect. While the old-school aggression that sustains NASCAR’s reputation was ever-present, Johnson also displayed a modern appreciation for tactical driving.
With Chip Ganassi signing Johnson up to race IndyCar in September, Pittsburgh’s existing relationship with motorsport is enriched a further degree, and there has never been a better time to look back on some of Johnson’s greatest victories attained in his prime.
Johnson dominated the sport for more than ten years, winning four titles in seven years.
2006 Brickyard 400
Aiming for his first-ever NASCAR Cup triumph, Jimmie Johnson led the Drivers’ Championship with 2,939 points ahead of this race. Jeff Burton led the early stretches from pole, and led for most of the opening 20 laps. Johnson, for his part, was suffering with a punctured front-left tire and suspected fender damage.
After the 70th lap, Johnson was still nowhere, while Kevin Harvick had since joined Jeff Burton in contention to win the race. Harvick eventually overtook Burton and opened up a commanding lead. Johnson’s opportunity to catch up with him came on lap 86, when debris prompted the entire field to pit.
Johnson was a lowly 39th at this time, but by the 115th lap he was closing in on Harvick, having been able to exploit gaps that emerged in the field after that wholesale change 29 laps earlier. A close race ensued in the late stages, with Johnson moving up and down the top ten under close attention from Matt Kenseth.
Johnson eventually won, but in anticlimactic circumstances, benefitting from two crashes further down the field during the final lap.
In winning the race, Johnson also gained his first major NASCAR win in Indiana. Winning at the famous venue, in any discipline, is a rite of passage to the A-list of stock car drivers, thus propelling Johnson to a maiden NASCAR title.
Just ten years later, Johnson would win title number seven.
2010 Auto Club 500
Auto Club Speedway is one of six superspeedways to hold NASCAR races, and as the name suggests, it favours superlative speed and bravery in battle. Indeed, such qualities are consistently reflected in the stronger drivers listed in FOX Bet’s betting markets for NASCAR events during race season, though even superspeedways can provide a twist in the tale.
Championship leader Jamie McMurray started well from pole, but was quickly overtaken by former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, with the Colombian himself overtaken by Johnson on lap 29.
The first yellow flag (for debris on the track) came on lap 57, giving Kevin Harvick an opportunity to overtake Johnson. The race then became a ‘three-horse’ affair, with Burton staying in contention, even though there were a number of pivotal cautions across the first 200 laps. Another caution came on lap 229, and Johnson’s superior driving following the final green flag extended his lead over Harvick.
Harvick chased Johnson all the way, but in the end, Johnson had done enough to get that vital first win of the season.
2016 Ford EcoBoost 500
Alongside Daytona and Indiana, Homestead-Miami is one of the most illustrious venues at which to savor a victory. Since 2002, it has also been the kingmaker of all three NASCAR series: the Sprint Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series. Back in 2016, Johnson was in the final four, and – after a lowly tenth-place finish in 2015 – had more reason than anyone to be motivated.
The pressure he felt would have been comparable to the pressures felt in new relationships, but Kevin Harvick took pole with a blistering average speed of 286 km/h, and led from the off. The first complication came on lap 27, after Ryan Blaney crashed into a wall, and caused the first caution of 2016’s grand finale. Harvick retained the lead throughout the first yellow flag period, and stayed at or near to the front of the field for a majority of the first half.
In the second half of the race, Joey Logano wrested control away from Harvick, but Kyle Larson then threw himself into the mix, capitalizing on a green flag cycle which began on lap 153. However, the final ten laps were a frantic affair in which no leader could race with any degree of comfort. A multi-car wreck saw the ‘final ten’ get off to a dramatic start, while the fifth-to-last lap saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr spin out and hit a will for yet another yellow flag.
This forced the race to go into extra time, but Johnson prevailed with just two laps remaining, snatching the lead from Kyle Larson at the death. In doing so, he won title number seven of an illustrious career.