Career timeline: Jimmie Johnson through the years

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When Jimmie Kenneth Johnson first competed in motorcycle racing and then off-road truck racing, NASCAR seemed a world away.

But when General Motors executive Herb Fischel convinced Johnson a little over two decades ago that if he wanted to achieve even greater racing success, he had to head to NASCAR — in a Chevrolet, of course. Johnson agreed to try his luck in stock car racing and the rest, as they say, is history.

Even though he was from the West Coast rather than the South where most NASCAR stars back then hailed from, Johnson would go on to become one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history behind the wheel of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

The future Hall of Famer announced Wednesday that he will retire from full-time competition in the NASCAR Cup Series after the 2020 season. Let’s reflect back on some of the highlights of Johnson’s career:

1998 and 1999: Began his initial foray into stock car racing with a two-year stint in the ASA National Tour Series, earning two wins, 17 top 5 and 31 top 10 finishes in 40 combined starts. His first win in a stock car came on June 12, 1999 at Memphis Motorsports Park in the Greased Lightning 200. He dominated the event, leading 156 laps on the .750-mile paved oval. During those same two years, Johnson also dipped his toes in NASCAR racing, competing in eight races in the then-Busch Series for Herzog Motorsports, with a best finish of seventh on July 4, 1999 at The Milwaukee Mile.

2000: Still with Herzog Motorsports, Johnson competed in his first full season in the Busch Series, earning six top 10 finishes, with a best showing of sixth place at South Boston, Michigan and Homestead. But to this day, he’s still remembered by fans for one of the most vicious wrecks of his career, as his No. 92 ran off into the grass at Watkins Glen, vaulted into the air and slammed head-on into the retaining wall after his car suffered brake failure.

2001: In his final season with Herzog Motorsports and also his final full-time season in the Busch Series, Johnson earned his first win (Chicagoland Speedway), four top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Ironically, with all the success he would go on to experience in the Cup Series, Johnson’s win at Chicagoland was – and remains – his only triumph in what is now the Xfinity Series. In the same year, Johnson got his first taste of NASCAR Cup racing, competing in three races for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, co-owned by Rick Hendrick and Johnson’s new teammate, NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. It was an auspicious beginning: Johnson finished 25th, 29th and 39th in his three Cup starts.

2002: Johnson exploded in his rookie season in the Cup Series. He began by earning the pole for the Daytona 500, then went on to win the first of what would be 83 career Cup Series wins at his home track, California Speedway (now Auto Club Speedway). He would win two other races (both at Dover, where he would go on to win a career-best 11 times), had six top-five and 21 top-10 finishes and placed fifth in the final standings.

2003: Johnson finishes second in the standings behind Matt Kenseth. Earns three wins.

2004: Johnson finishes second in the standings behind Kurt Busch. Earned eight wins, which would become the second-most victories in a single season in his career. Also experienced one of the most tragic days of his life when, on October 24, Johnson won at Martinsville only to skip any victory celebration when it was learned that a Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying 10 headed for the race, crashed in Southern Virginia.

2005: Wins four races and finishes fifth in the standings.

2006: Johnson begins the season in a big way, earning the first of two career Daytona 500 wins, and then continues on to finish the season by winning his first career Cup championship, capturing five wins, 13 top five and 24 top-10 finishes. He also scores the first of four Brickyard 400 victories.

2007: Johnson wins his second consecutive Cup championship, paced by a single season career-best 10 wins, the only time he has earned double-digit wins in a season.

2008: Johnson wins his third consecutive Cup championship. Earns seven wins, including his second Brickyard 400 victory.

2009: Wins his fourth consecutive Cup championship, breaking Cale Yarborough’s record of three straight Cup titles. Once again earns seven wins, including his third Brickyard 400 triumph. Selected as Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press.

2010: Wins his fifth consecutive Cup championship. Earns six wins.

2011: His string of consecutive championships ends, as he has what many consider an off year, finishing sixth in the standings and earning just two wins, the fewest he would earn in a single season until he went winless in both 2018 and 2019.

2012: Finished third in the season standings. Won five races, including his fourth and most recent Brickyard 400 victory.

2013: Earns his second career Daytona 500 win. He also wins the summer race at Daytona for the first and only time in his career. Wins six races and caps it off with his sixth Cup championship.

2014: Wins four races but struggles in the first year of the new NASCAR Cup playoff format, finishing 11th, the first time he’s finished outside the top six in the final standings in his Cup career.

2015: In a similar storyline as the previous season, wins multiple races (five), but struggles in the playoffs and is eliminated in the first round, finishing 10th in the final standings.

2016: Johnson moves into NASCAR legend status when he wins his seventh Cup championship, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Once again earns five wins.

2017: Johnson earns three wins, including his most recent – and 83rd of his career – victory in the Cup Series on June 4. It also extends his record as the winningest Cup driver at Dover International Speedway to 11 wins in his career. He once again struggles to advance in the playoffs and finishes 10th.

2018: For the first time in his full-time career, Johnson goes winless. He earns just two top-five finishes, a career single-season low. Makes the playoffs but is eliminated after the first round and finishes 14th, which was a career-low (until 2019).

2019: For the first time in his career, he competes without crew chief Chad Knaus. They were split after the 2018 season. Johnson fails to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in his career and finishes a career-worst 18th in the standings. His winless streak reaches 95 consecutive races. Johnson announces that the 2020 season will be his last as a full-time driver in the Cup Series.

Two months ago on the Dale Jr. Download, as seen on NBCSN, Johnson gave some hints as to what he may do once his full-time Cup days are over with. Check it out.

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Jimmie Johnson’S CAREER – BY THE NUMBERS

1 – Made his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 7, 2001; he started the race 15th but finished 39th due to being involved in an incident.

4 – Won his first career pole in the Monster Energy Series in his fourth start; the 2002 Daytona 500; he started first but finished 15th.

4 – Number of career Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race wins – series-most.

5 – Only driver in NASCAR National Series history to win five consecutive championships – from 2006-2010.

 7 – Total number of career Monster Energy Series titles – tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the series-most.

11 – Career-most wins in the Monster Energy Series at single track – Dover International Speedway.

11.9 – Career average starting position in the Monster Energy Series – sixth-best among Cup drivers with 600 or more starts.

12.9 – Career average finishing position in the Monster Energy Series – sixth best among Cup drivers with 600 or more starts.

13 – Won his first Monster Energy Series race in just his 13th career start on April 28, 2002 at Auto Club Speedway; he started the race fourth.

Drivers Avg Finish Starts
1 Dale Earnhardt 11.061 676
2 Richard Petty 11.267 1,185
3 Buck Baker 11.374 636
4 Bobby Allison 11.493 718
5 Jeff Gordon 12.509 805
6 Jimmie Johnson 12.896 651

16 – Number of consecutive seasons with wins in the Monster Energy Series (2002-2017).

20 – Number of different tracks he has won at in the Monster Energy Series.

36 – Number of Monster Energy Series career poles – 17th-most all-time.

83 – Number of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career wins – tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth-most all-time.

227 – Number of Monster Energy Series top-five finishes – 11th-most all-time.

346 – Number of Monster Energy Series races he has led at least one lap – (53.5%).

364 – Number of Monster Energy Series top-10 finished – 10th-most all-time.

651 – Number of Monster Energy Series career starts – 26th-most all-time.

18,834 – Career number of laps led – ninth-most all-time

184,866 – Career number of laps completed – 22nd-most all-time.

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Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson to pursue $100K bounty in Truck Series

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The $100,000 bounty on Kyle Busch has its first contenders.

Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson each confirmed Thursday evening on Twitter that they’ll take a shot at the bounty placed by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis last week.

Elliott will compete in the March 14 Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the May 30 race at Kansas Speedway with GMS Racing. Larson will compete with GMS Racing in the March 20 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott will be sponsored by Hooters for the Atlanta race.

The declarations by the two drivers came the same day that Busch said he didn’t believe any full-time Cup Series drivers would go after the bounty.

Elliott has 12 career Truck Series starts. His last two, at Atlanta and Martinsville in 2017, came with GMS Racing. Elliott won the Martinsville race. Busch was not in that race.

“Once the word got out about the challenge, we were able to put this together with Mike Beam at GMS in just a couple of days,” Elliott said in a press release. “Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks, so I’m really looking forward to getting back into a GMS truck there with Hooters on the truck and make a run for a win.”

Larson has 13 career starts and his last three, including a win at Eldora and top five at Homestead in 2016, came with GMS Racing.

“When I heard about the $100,000 bounty I wanted in!” Larson said in a press release. “I’m thankful for GMS and Chevy giving me this opportunity, Homestead is one of my favorite tracks so looking for to the challenge!”

There’s a potential third bounty hunter waiting in the wings.

Not long after Larson’s announcement, Denny Hamlin, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, tweeted that he’s acquired the funding to field a ride. There’s just one hangup, and it’s Kyle Busch Motorsports:

The $100,000 bounty against Busch was proposed by Harvick and Lemonis, CEO of Gander RV & Outdoors, last week. It will go to any full-time Cup Series driver who beats Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year. Busch has won the last seven Truck Series races he’s entered.

If Elliott or no other Cup driver beats Busch in those four races, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

“We are blessed with this opportunity. To have an owner that is up for the challenge and a manufacturer that will support the extra effort necessary is really special,” said Mike Beam, President of GMS Racing, in a press release. “It’s great to have these two talented young men back behind the wheel for us and to have the extra attention on the Truck series is great.”

Kyle Busch: $100K Truck Series bounty is a losing proposition

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Kyle Busch doesn’t believe any full-time Cup Series driver will attempt to claim the $100,000 bounty placed on him last week by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis.

Harvick and Lemonis, the CEO of Truck Series sponsor Gander RV & Outdoors, said they’d award that bounty to any full-time Cup Series driver who is able to beat Busch in any of his four remaining Truck Series starts this year.

Busch, who has won the last seven Truck races he’s entered, sees the challenge as a losing investment, especially if someone attempted it in one of Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Toyotas.

Thursday on the Barstool Sports’ “Rubbin’ is Racing” podcast, Busch said it costs $140,000 to rent one of his Trucks for a race.

“Right off the bat (it’s a losing proposition),” Busch said. “It’s not going to happen. Nobody is going to pay the 140 grand to rent a truck, whether it’s from me or from somebody else. (Show co-host Clint) Bowyer didn’t tell you the fact he can’t even rent a truck from me because I’m a Toyota team and he drives for a Ford team. So he has to go find a Ford truck in order to drive. So there’s those complications that fit into all of this, too.”

Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, expressed his interest in the bounty, as well Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, who said he was “working on” a deal.

After his win last Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch’s four remaining Truck Series starts are:

March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway

May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

If no one beats Busch, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Marty Snider hosts and is joined by Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan.

James Hinchliffe will call into the show to discuss his new role as an analyst for NBC’s coverage of IndyCar, Indy Lights, IMSA and NASCAR.

You can call into the show via 844-NASCAR-NBC or submit your questions/comments via Twitter using #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Auto Club Speedway’s old surface provides ‘moving target’ for drivers

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Auto Club Speedway has a lot of character.

It’s a character that comes from the 2-mile track’s racing surface being among the oldest on the NASCAR circuit.

The surface hasn’t been repaved since the track first opened in 1997. That’s the same year that the surface for Atlanta Motor Speedway was last resurfaced (a planned repave was put on hold indefinitely in 2017 after outcry from drivers).

In the 23 years since, races at the track in Fontana, California, have turned into producers of multi-groove spectacles (especially on restarts) that come at the cost of high levels of tire wear.

The aged surface provides a “moving target” to drivers throughout the race weekend, according to Tyler Reddick.

“During the start of the weekend, you have to watch for the seams since it’s so slick out there,” the rookie Cup driver said in a media release. “Normally, the Xfinity cars are the first ones on the track, so I’m normally very careful. Now that I’m in the Cup Series, it may be a little different. I think this weekend will be fairly similar to Las Vegas where we started out running wide open, and I’ll have to run like that until the handling starts to go away in our No. 8 I Am Second Chevrolet (and) you have to start lifting. Then it’ll be important to assess why the handling is changing and how to adjust our car correctly to battle that.”

Cup and Xfinity teams only visit Auto Club Speedway once a year and this will be the second year they’ll do so with the high downforce aero package.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones believes Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox) will be a “different race” from the one seen last year.

“Going into Fontana last year, no one really knew what we needed car-wise, balance-wise and this year we have a whole notebook to look back on to try to get better,” Jones, who finished 19th in last year’s race, said in a media release.

“I think there will be a lot more lifting, the cars will be faster. Everybody has just gotten their cars better and more efficient and faster on the straightaways and that makes for more lifting in the corners. It will probably be a little different race, but Fontana is always a good show.”

But that show depends on where a driver chooses to run around the track.

Racing along the top of the track compared to running in the bottom lane proves for “two completely different types of racing” according to defending race winner Kyle Busch.

“You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttering around the racetrack,” Busch said in a media release. “You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top.”

When it comes to how rough the track is, Matt DiBenedetto cites how bumpy Turns 3 and 4 are, but said in a media release that traversing the “back straightaway is like going over jumps.”

But just like with the old surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are those who never want to see Auto Club’s surface actually improve.

“I did an appearance at Auto Club Speedway not too long ago and I told the track officials, ‘Whatever you do, don’t repave it!'” Austin Dillon said in a media release. “Or, wait to repave it until you can figure out how to make an asphalt that is very similar to what is on the track now.”

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