art watts

April 28 in NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson earns first Cup win

Leave a comment

It did not take long for Jimmie Johnson to leave his mark on the NASCAR Cup Series.

Only 13 starts into his career, Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team were winners.

The victory occurred on April 28, 2002 at Johnson’s home track of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Johnson started fourth and would lead 62 of the race’s 250 laps. He took the lead for the final time on a restart with 14 laps to go when he passed Bill Elliott. That was after a pit stop where crew chief Chad Knaus elected to take fuel only as other teams changed two tires.

Johnson would hold off Kurt Busch over the final three laps to take the checkered flag.

“This is unbelievable,” Johnson told Fox in Victory Lane. “This is awesome to do in California in front of my hometown. … It’s going to sink in as the days come, right now it’s just cool.”

Johnson was quickly joined in the celebration by teammate and co-owner of the No. 48 team, Jeff Gordon.

“Guess we hired the right guy!” Gordon declared.

Johnson’s victory was the fifth by a rookie driver since 1999, following Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick. Ryan Newman would join that list later that year.

Johnson went on to win two more times in 2002. He has accumulated 83 wins and seven championships during his career. In late 2019, he announced 2020 would be his final full-time Cup season.

Also on this date:

1957: Art Watts started from the pole and led all 100 laps on his way to winning a Grand National race at Portland (Oregon) Speedway. The win was his only victory in 19 career starts. Watts made five starts in 1957 and started from the pole in each race.

1974: Cale Yarborough led 421 of 450 laps to win at Martinsville (the race was shortened by 50 laps due to an energy crisis). Richard Petty finished second despite having to pit 13 times during the race, including once under green for a flat tire, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” Bobby Allison finished third four laps behind Yarborough and Petty.

1990: Chuck Bown led all 200 laps from the pole to win a Xfinity Series race at Lanier Speedway in Gainesville, Georgia.

1996: Sterling Marlin won at Talladega in a Cup race that saw Bill Elliott break a leg in a wreck where his No. 94 Ford went airborne on the backstretch. Later, Ricky Craven’s No. 41 Chevrolet tumbled into the Turn 1 catchfence in a large multi-car wreck. Elliott would sit out until July Daytona race. Craven qualified third the following week at Sonoma, but was relieved by Ron Hornaday Jr.

2007: With a last-lap pass of former teammate Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte won the Xfinity Series race at Talladega to score his final NASCAR national series win.