Johnson’s Championship ‘Era’ Ends At Phoenix

Charlotte, NC (November 14, 2011) – Years from now, racing pundits will point to Sunday, November 13, 2011 as one of the most important benchmark dates in the history of NASCAR.


It won’t be because the Kobalt Tools 500 was the first race to be contested on the newly reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway oval or that Kasey Kahne provided what will most likely be the last victory for Red Bull Racing in the Sprint Cup division.

Both will be footnotes in NASCAR lore to a more seismic event – the end of Jimmie Johnson’s streak of five-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championships.

It’s hard to think in terms of eras in a sport that is measured by how you finished last week, but that’s exactly what needs to be done in considering Johnson’s run of titles.

From 2005-2010, Johnson has dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship standings on the strength of 35 wins and 117 top-10 finishes in 180 races.

History tells us Johnson’s accomplishments merit considerable attention as they equal – and in almost every case – exceed those marks that came before it.

Consider the following –

The two-time NASCAR champions of the 1950’s – Tim Flock, Buck Baker and Lee Petty – all have great stats, but they don’t compare to those of Johnson.

Flock’s amazing 18 wins in 1956 and Baker’s 14 victories in 1957 are great marks to be sure, but neither won championships back-to-back like Petty did in capturing the 1958 and 1959 NASCAR titles.

Petty’s marks for those two seasons – 18 wins and an astounding 78 top-10 finishes in 92 races – probably classifies him as the driver of the 1950’s era, especially considering he also captured the 1954 NASCAR title.

Still, his stats pale compared to Johnson’s.

Meanwhile Petty’s son, Richard, was racking up race wins in the 1960’s, but the decade belonged to David Pearson when it came to capturing championships.

Pearson won three titles in four years from 1966 through 1969 notching 37 victories during that span. Pearson’s championship ‘era’ is even more impressive considering he never ran in all the races contested in each of those seasons.

But again, as great as the ‘Silver Fox’ was, his marks over that period lag behind Johnson’s.

In the 1970’s, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough each laid claim to their own era as Petty won four titles in five years – 1971-1975.

Meanwhile, Yarborough’s NASCAR record of three-straight championships in 1976, 1977 and 1978 are usually the benchmark that Johnson’s accomplishments are compared to. After all, it was Cale’s three-peat that Johnson left in his dust a couple of seasons ago.

In the 1980’s, Darrell Waltrip (1981-82) and Dale Earnhardt (1986-87) grabbed back-to-back titles and in the 1990’s with Earnhardt coming closest to Johnson’s accomplishments winning four championships in five years (1990, 1991, 1993, 1994).

As a comparative, Earnhardt won 24 and posted 104 top-10 finishes out of the 148 races contested over that five-year period. Those are great numbers to be sure, but Earnhardt slipped winning just once in 1992, the difference between his four and Johnson’s five NASCAR titles in a row.

For statistics sake, you also have to tip your helmet to Jeff Gordon, who won three then Winston Cup championships in four years to close out the decade of the 1990’s (1995, 1997, 1998).

Since then, however, no other driver had come close to posting anything near the ‘dynastic’ records of those listed above. That is until Johnson came along and obliterated every championship mark that came before it.

Now it’s over.

Johnson’s 14th-place finish at Phoenix Sunday officially eliminated him from this year’s title chase, mathematically sunk 68 points out of first with only the final race this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway remaining on the 2011 schedule.

Still a respectable fifth in the standings heading to Homestead, Johnson will be looking to extend a streak of top-five point finishes to 10-straight seasons. That’s right, Johnson has never finished out of the top-five in points since making his full-time Sprint Cup debut in 1992.

His career finishing average in the championship chase over the past nine seasons is 2.3.


Over the past five seasons, NASCAR fans have been treated to something very special, a list of accomplishments that are so immense that they immediately qualify as an era. In this case, Johnson has driven to marks that are currently unequaled in the history of the sport.

It’s rare to be able to witness history like this in the making. It’s even more important to appreciate it when you see it. You can be sure Johnson’s run of championships will be referenced reverently by future generations of racing historians and fans because they are unlikely to see anything like it again.

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