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NASCAR's "Old Timers"

Turning 30 this past fall, Jimmie Johnson somehow has become one of NASCAR’s “old timers.”

“For whatever reason,” Johnson said when asked about his spot in the NASCAR hierarchy, “it’s been popping up in my mind lately. I remember when I came to work at Hendrick Motorsports [in 2001], Jeff Gordon was 30 and I [thought] ‘man, that guy is old.’

“I guess, when Kyle Busch came on board two years ago I realized I wasn’t young and, at 19 years old, he was. Brian Vickers [recently turned 22] and he like to rub it in that Jeff and I are in our 30s and they aren’t.”

Johnson’s good humor notwithstanding, the comment only serves to underline the fact that NASCAR has become a young man’s game. Obviously, the transition has taken place over a number of years – Gordon began the youth movement as when he got a full-time ride as a 21-year-old in 1993 – but that 30 is now being viewed as an advanced age in NASCAR is revealing in and of itself.

Consider: Dale Earnhardt Sr. was 29 years old when he won his first (of seven) NASCAR Nextel Cup titles, but The Intimidator didn’t win his second until he was 35; Rusty Wallace was 34 when he won his first and only title in 1989 and Cale Yarborough was 36 when he won his first of three straight titles in 1976.

The average age of the last five NASCAR Nextel Cup champions? Just over 30 years old.

Still, Johnson isn’t quite ready to accept AARP status. “I’m glad that Gillette still considers me a ‘Young Gun.’ We’ll see how much longer I can hang on to that title.”

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