By the sounds of Jimmie Johnson’s radio after he took the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway, it would be easy to assume he had just won his first race.
It wasn’t. The Food City 500 will go down as the 82nd win of Johnson’s legendary career, but Johnson was still excited. Screaming at the top of his lungs, Johnson let out an, “(expletive) yeah!” among other things. His burnout, on both the front and backstretch, was just as impressive as ever.
So, what exactly is it that can make Johnson excited after 82 wins and seven championships?
“Well, there’s two parts to it,” Johnson admitted. “One, this is what we work so hard to do, and I truly feel like NASCAR drivers are the best drivers in the world, and anytime you can ring the bell and win one of these shows, you’ve done something. You really have.
“Then the second piece – which probably led to some of the profanity – was this place, personally, to win here and to run that competitive all day means a lot to me. I’ve loved this racetrack from afar, made my first laps here in 2000 in a Busch (Series) car, and was like, ‘Where am I? What’s going on? How do I get around this racetrack?’ And it’s been a journey since 2000.
“I know we won here one other time, but I think from a consistency standpoint, this is the best we’ve ever been, and I’ve been looking and trying to figure this place out. I’ve come here with the identical racecar that Jeff Gordon wins with, and I run 15th. That’s where a lot of that emotion came from is more in the personal category today and getting that win.”
With 82 career wins, Johnson sits seventh on the all-time wins list. He is now one behind Cale Yarborough for sixth on the list and two behind Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth. While Richard Petty’s 200 wins have always been viewed as insurmountable, David Pearson sits second on the list at 105.
Johnson has been adamant in the past that no driver, including himself, will break the 100-win mark. That’s something he continues to assert even as he continues to close in.
“From watching Gordon (who has 93 career wins), he had a 13-win season one year,” Johnson said. “It just seems too far out there that I don’t think that the 100 is achievable. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. I would clearly love to do that. But again, I’ve always felt that that’s just a such a big number and, with as competitive as our sport is, the new twist with stage racing and what it’s done to our series, that’s going to be a hard number to get to.”
Of course, the ever-over-achieving Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, is looking at 100 and beyond.
“I think we can win every race,” Knaus said. “Now, the likelihood of us winning every race is pretty slim. But in all actuality, the ability to go out there and win every single race is there. Yeah. I don’t see why not. Why not 150, right? Honestly, from what I’ve seen out of this team, and what I’ve seen out of the ability of Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie, I don’t think there’s really too much that can’t be reached.”
The number of wins Johnson accumulates before his career might remain to be determined, but as far as continuing to be excited on the radio…
“My wife won’t let my children listen to me, either,” he laughed.