Throwback Thursday: From his rookie season in 2002 to the present day, Six Time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson has been very impressive behind the wheel. The driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet didn’t start on all four wheels though. At the young age of four Johnson started racing Motorcycle Racing, he won the 60cc Championship at the age of seven. After his career on two wheels, in 1993 Johnson moved on to the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group Stadium Racing Series where he won several times. Johnson even ventured into the reporting business, reporting for ESPN in the Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association. He would later drive in this series for Herzog Motorsports in 1996. In 1997, Johnson was in contention for a Championship racing against Scott Taylor and Brendan Gaughan for the title. Despite winning four races, Johnson placed third in the final standings. During his time as an Off-Road driver, Jimmie Johnson racked up 25 wins, 100 podiums, Rookie Of The Year honors in all three series he raced in and six championships.
Jimmie Johnson began driving asphalt stock cars in 1998 in ASA and the NASCAR Busch Series. He won Rookie Of The Year in ASA and went on to finish third in the final season standings in 1999. In 2000 it was announced that Johnson would run for Herzog Motorsports in the Busch Series. He ran all but one race in the 2000 season, finishing tenth in the championship with six top ten finishes. During this time, Johnson was noticed by Three Time Winston Cup Champion Jeff Gordon. Gordon wanted Johnson to drive for a brand new fourth team being added to Hendrick Motorsports in 2002.
During the 2001 season, the pressure was on for Jimmie Johnson as he would be making his first start in the Winston Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports and also running his first full season in the Busch Series. Johnson needed to preform to prove himself. In 2001, a new track was added to the Busch Series schedule. Chicagoland Speedway had just opened in July and was looking to put on a show for NASCAR fans, Johnson was still searching for his first win.
Jimmie Johnson qualified his #92 Excerdrin Chevrolet in the sixth position. Ryan Newman, Jimmy Spencer and Greg Biffle led the race early on before they each had problems throughout the second half of the race, causing them to fall back. Through the race’s nine caution flags, Johnson stayed towards the front. He took the lead with 43 laps to go and never looked back. Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag for the first time in his career and proved himself to be worthy of the Hendrick Motorsports ride. This win was not only Johnson’s first, it was also the first for his team, Herzog Motorsports.
Jimmie Johnson went on to finish eighth in the final season standings, moving on to the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in 2002. Johnson won three races in his rookie season, finishing fifth in the championship. Later in his career, he went on to win 6 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships including five in a row from 2006 to 2010. Johnson has only finished outside the top 10 in points once since 2002. He is currently racing towards a possible seventh championship in 2015, looking to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s record for most all time NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships.
What would NASCAR be like today if Jimmie Johnson stayed in Off-Road Racing? Where would he be? Where would Hendrick Motorsports be? Most of all, where would NASCAR be? Love Jimmie or hate him, the sport would for sure be totally different than it is today.