It is beginning to seem like every win or championship that Jimmie Johnson has in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has some historical significance and Sunday’s win at Dover in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism put the Hendrick Motorsports driver in the company of one of the sport’s all-time greats. The win was the third of the year for the seven-time series champion and the 83rd of his career, which ties him with Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth place on the all-time win list.
When Johnson got out of the car he paid tribute to Yarborough by displaying on the roof of his car a specially designed helmet that was covered with pictures from his career. He also added a nice touch when he put on the iconic No. 28 hat that Yarborough adorned in so many of the victory lane celebration pictures that we still see today.
Yarborough’s stellar career began with his first race at his home track of Darlington in 1957. Cale is one of only two drivers to win three consecutive series titles in 1976-1978 while driving for the legendary Junior Johnson. His time with Johnson that began in 1973 was the most dominant of his career. His last season with Johnson was 1980 and it nearly ended with the duo winning their fourth title in a five-year stretch as he lost the championship to Dale Earnhardt by 19 points, but it was an incredible year for Yarborough as he posted a modern-era record 14 poles and won six races. He won 55 races with Johnson, which gave him a winning percentage of 26.57%.
Yarborough competed in 560 races over a career that spanned 31 years that ended in his retirement after the end of the 1988 season. The dominance of his career can be summed up in his 14.82% winning percentage that is ninth best all-time and third among drivers with more than 500 starts in their careers.
Yarborough may have been his best in the biggest races on what was then the Winston Cup schedule as he won the Daytona 500 four times beginning with the Wood Brothers in 1968. He took the checkered flag for the second time at the Florida track while driving for Junior Johnson in 1977. Then while he was driving a parttime schedule for Harry Ranier, he posted back-to-back Daytona 500 wins in 1983 and ’84. Ranier was a Prestonsburg, Kentucky native and the Daytona 500 owner’s trophies for winning the two races are on display in Prestonsburg and are open to the public.
Even though he had a lengthy career, when you look at the numbers that he put up in his you have to factor in that he posted such lofty numbers while running only a part-time schedule beginning with the 1981 season
PIT NOTES: Johnson’s win at Dover tied him with Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip as the only three drivers in NASCAR’s elite series to win 11 or more races at a single track. Petty leads all drivers by doing it four times. He posted 15 wins at both Martinsville and North Wilkesboro, 13 at Richmond and 11 wins at Rockingham. Waltrip has done it twice with 12 wins at Bristol and 11 trips to victory lane at Martinsville. The next win for Johnson will tie him with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth as both drivers posted 84 wins in their Hall of Fame careers. Jeff Gordon sits in third with 93 with David Pearson’s 105 wins sitting in second. Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus are in their prime of their career making Pearson’s mark attainable but becoming the all-time winner is out of reach as Richard Petty leads all drivers with 200 wins in his career.
Event: Pocono 400
Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5 mile tri-oval, Turn 1: 14o of banking, Turn 2: 8o, Turn 3: 6o)
Date: June 11, 3:00
Defending Race Champion: Kurt Busch