It’s hard to believe how much Jimmie Johnson has already accomplished in his NASCAR career. At just 37 years of age, and in only his 11th full season of Cup competition, Johnson has not only etched his name in the record books but has raised the bar in terms of success in the series. He’s surpassed a championship record that stood for 30 years, gained in knowledge and performance on a yearly basis and become the perennial threat when it comes to wins and championships. Just how much has this young Hendrick Motorsports driver done? Here’s a look at his top-10 career achievements — to date —Rea White
That was fast
Certainly Johnson was a part of the stellar Hendrick Motorsports organization, but he brought high-profile sponsor Lowe’s to the season opener of his full-time debut in 2002. And if that wasn't enough, he stunned the field when he went out and turned the fastest lap in qualifying, earning the pole position for his first run in NASCAR’s premier event, the Daytona 500.
Million dollar man
Winning lots of races and a handful of championships will up your career winnings to the tune of over $116 million. In an era when purses for premier events are rising, Johnson has developed the knack for not only winning often, but also of visiting Victory Lane in some of NASCAR’s most prestigious — and profitable — events. That’s an average earning, by the way, of more than $10 million a year.
Never too far behind
Here’s an impressive statistic: Johnson has finished on the lead lap in 77.8 percent of Cup races he's entered. Not only does Johnson regularly threaten for the wins, but he also manages to take care of his car even when he doesn't get to celebrate in Victory Lane. He and his Chad Knaus-led crew are often able to overcome issues throughout the course of a race that might be holding them back and almost never leave a track saying, “We just missed it today.” Certainly Johnson has been caught up in his share of setbacks, but in 309 of his 397 starts, he has been on the lead lap when the race ended.
Coming to a Victory Lane near you
Entering the 2010 season, the one hole on Johnson’s resume was success on road courses. But he fixed that at Infineon Raceway, taking the checkered flag in June. As a result, he has just five tracks left on the schedule: Watkins Glen International (the other road course on the schedule), Michigan International Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway (where he has seven top-10 finishes in nine starts) or Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he’s generally racing a bit more cautiously as he wraps up the championship, and the relatively new Kentucky Speedway.
There was just something about Martinsville Speedway that Johnson seems to like. He has seven wins there, including an impressive stretch from the fall race of 2006 until the spring race of 2009 when he only lost there once. Since then, he’s finished second, ninth, fifth, 11th, second, 12th and won again in the fall of 2012. So clearly, Johnson still knows his way around this oval.
As a rookie in 2002, Johnson won a trio of races. That proved to be his minimum mark for all but one season since. He won three races in 2008, eight in 2004, four in 2005, five in 2006, 10 in 2007, seven in 2008 and seven in 2009. Oh, and he snared six victories for 2010. In 2011, though, he merely won twice.
Getting good at this
One could argue that Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn’t carry the same heat in NASCAR that it does in open-wheel racing, but it’s still one of NASCAR’s premier events and a trophy that drivers covet. Most would be happy to earn just one chance to kiss the bricks at the track. Johnson has already tallied four wins there in just 11 tries.
Setting a high standard
As a rookie driver in 2002, Johnson finished fifth in the series standings. That remained his lowest overall series finish until 2011, when he fell all the way to sixth. He was the runner-up the next two seasons, fell to fifth in 2005, then finished the year atop the points the next five seasons. That’s a remarkable level of success in a sport where the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup can level a team if it suffers a catastrophic failure or crash. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, though, always seem to overcome any setbacks and finish in fine standing.
50 is nifty
Johnson made history again, winning his 50th career race in 2010. He is the fourth fastest in NASCAR history to hit the mark, which he did in his 296th start. Ahead of him are Jeff Gordon (232 starts), Darrell Waltrip (278 starts) and David Pearson (293 starts). Johnson has 60 career Cup wins overall.
Few are ahead of Johnson in the category that counts the most, championships. Johnson (pictured with his wife, Chandra, with four of his trophies) is the sport’s first to win five consecutive titles, a feat he orchestrated from 2006 through 2010. He did so in a season with the old car, one with both and then again when NASCAR went completely to the new-model car. Cale Yarborough was the previous championship record holder with three consecutive. And only two men stand in front of Johnson in championships. He just moved ahead of teammate and team co-owner Jeff Gordon, who also has four titles, and trails only Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, who each have seven, in overall titles. And that’s after only 10 seasons of full-time competition.