Best for Last: Jimmie Johnson Makes NASCAR '75 Greatest Drivers' List

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Best for Last: Johnson Makes '75 Greatest' ListChris Trotman - Getty Images

This was perhaps the easiest of them all. Inarguable. Unanimous. A slam-dunk. No contest. A no-brainer. Don’t even come around here with that, “yeah, but what about that long losing streak at the end?”

No. A thousand times no!!!

There is no argument that the semi-retired Jimmie Johnson is as worthy as anyone has ever been of being included among NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers. The seven-time Cup Series champion was named on Thursday to join the organization’s other 74 greatest drivers in this, NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season. (All 75 or their representatives will be recognized during pre-race ceremonies at this weekend’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.


NASCAR unveiled its newest 25 greatest – to accompany the original 50 greatest unveiled 25 years ago – in no specific order. But was it really “random” that three-time champion Tony Stewart was the first honoree at No. 51 and Johnson bookended him at No. 75?

No matter… the other 74 “greatest” almost certainly would have returned their certificate (and maybe a cool “75 Greatest Drivers” jacket?) if Johnson hadn’t been named among them. Even the most cynical or low-brow would agree that 2-J absolutely belongs to their little group of stars that includes drivers from as far back as 1949 and as recently as last weekend.

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Jimmie Johnson in the familiar No. 48 races to the first of his seven Cup championships in 2006.Doug Benc - Getty Images

Evidence? You want evidence? How about this for evidence:

• Johnson’s seven Cup Series championships are matched only by fellow Hall of Fame legends Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt. The only full-schedule active drivers anywhere near that exalted trio are two-time champions Joey Logano and Kyle Busch… and it’s a long, tough slog from two championships to seven;

• Among Johnson’s seven titles were an unprecedented five in a row, between 2006 and 2010. It’s indisputable that Petty’s 27 points-paying victories in 1967 and his 10 consecutive victories that year will never be matched. NEVER!! But his son, Kyle, contends that Johnson’s five consecutive titles is equally as unapproachable as Richard’s dominance in 1967. And who better than the King’s kid to make that assessment? (In addition to seven titles, Johnson was second in points twice and third once. Surprisingly, though, he wasn’t 2002 Rookie of the Year, an honor given to Ryan Newman);

• Johnson spent parts of 20 seasons in No. 48 Chevrolets at Hendrick Motorsports, most of them with Chad Knaus atop the pit box. His numbers at HMS are undeniably Hall of Fame worthy: 36 poles, 83 victories, 232 top-5 finishes, 374 top-10 finishes, and 15 top-10 points finishes in 686 starts. He spent two dismal seasons in IndyCar (2021-2022) before becoming a part-time driver/co-owner this year with Maury Gallagher of Chevrolet-based Legacy Motor Club;

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Johnson’s last win with crew chief Chad Knaus came at Dover in 2017.Sean Gardner - Getty Images

• Many of his 83 victories came at NASCAR’s most important tracks: 11 times at Dover, nine at Martinsville, eight at Charlotte, seven at Fort Worth, six at Fontana, five at Atlanta, four each at Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, three each at Darlington, Daytona Beach, Kansas City, Loudon, Richmond and Pocono, two each at Bristol and Talladega, and one each at Homestead, Michigan, and Sonoma.

Granted, Johnson struggled down the stretch. His last victory with Knaus at Dover in June of 2017 led into a puzzling 130-race losing streak. They were 0-for-36 in 2018, Johnson was 0-for-36 with crew chiefs Kevin Meendering and Cliff Daniels in 2019, then 0-for-35 with Daniels in 2020. (FYI: Daniels won the Cup title in 2021, his first season with Kyle Larson).

• If “Grand Slam” victories are, indeed, another mark of excellence, then Johnson stands tall: four in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, four in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, two in the Daytona 500, two in the Southern 500, and two at Talladega. His victories came on superspeedways, short tracks, road courses, and mid-length speedways… all told victories at 20 tracks;

So don’t despair because Johnson finally made the cut after so many others went ahead of him on the ballot to get NASCAR’s “greatest drivers” class from 50 to 75. Intentionally or not, maybe the voting panel in Daytona Beach and Charlotte simply wanted to save the best of the newest 25 for last.

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Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus plan strategy in 2005.Sporting News Archive - Getty Images

NASCAR'S Greatest Drivers

Original 50


Bobby Allison

Davey Allison

Buck Baker

Buddy Baker

Geoff Bodine

Neil Bonnett

Red Byron

Jerry Cook

Dale Earnhardt

Ralph Earnhardt

Bill Elliott

Richie Evans

Red Farmer

Tim Flock

A.J. Foyt

Harry Gant

Jeff Gordon

Ray Hendrick

Jack Ingram

Ernie Irvan

Bobby Isaac

Dale Jarrett

Ned Jarrett

Junior Johnson

Alan Kulwicki

Terry Labonte

Fred Lorenzen

Tiny Lund

Mark Martin

Hershel McGriff

Cotton Owens

Marvin Panch

Benny Parsons

David Pearson

Lee Petty

Richard Petty

Tim Richmond

Fireball Roberts

Ricky Rudd

Marshall Teague

Herb Thomas

Curtis Turner

Rusty Wallace

Darrell Waltrip

Joe Weatherly

Bob Welborn

Rex White

Glen Wood

Cale Yarborough

LeeRoy Yarbrough

The New 25


(No particular order)

51, Tony Stewart

52, Kasey Kahne

53, Mike Stefanik

54, Randy Lajoie

55, Kyle Larson

56, Greg Biffle

57, Sterling Marlin

58, Ryan Newman

59, Chase Elliott

60, Carl Edwards

61, Ron Hornaday

62, Jeff Burton

63, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

64, Bobby Labonte

65, Martin Truex Jr.

66, Brad Keselowski

67, Larry Phillips

68, Sammy Ard

69, Kurt Busch

70, Kyle Busch

71, Denny Hamlin

72, Kevin Harvick

73, Joey Logano

74, Matt Kenseth

75, Jimmie Johnson