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Johnson and Yarborough -- feats similar, yet different

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 27, 2008) – When Jimmie Johnson won the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he joined Cale Yarborough as one of only two drivers to win three straight championships at NASCAR’s highest level. A native of El Cajon, Calif., Johnson recorded his championships with a smooth style, while Yarborough, who hailed from a small town in South Carolina, negotiated NASCAR’s racetracks with an unmatched grit. Here is how the two record-setting drivers matchup:

How they’re alike:

*Change is good: Both drivers won their championships shortly after major changes to the sport. Yarborough won his after two different changes – the reduction of the number of races in 1972 and the implementation of the current point system in 1975. Johnson won his after the introduction of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2004 and during a period that saw the introduction of a new NASCAR Sprint Cup car (2007-08).

*Foreshadowing success: Both drivers came up just short in the season that preceded their breakthrough. Yarborough finished second in the point standings in 1973 and 1974 before his first championship in 1976. Johnson finished second in 2003 and 2004 before his first title in 2006.

How they’re different:

*Varied competition: Statistically, Johnson’s championships have come during a much more competitive era. Over the last three seasons, there have been more races, larger fields and more race and pole winners than during Yarborough’s championship era. Johnson has raced in a time when consistency also has been a factor. More cars finish on the lead lap nowadays than when Yarborough ran. Almost 75 percent of cars entered today finish the race and the average number of cars on the lead lap has increased 10-fold. When Yarborough was competing for the Cup title, fewer than 10 cars would finish on the lead lap and during 17 of the 90 events, the race winner had lapped the field.
Though Johnson’s championships have come in seasons that had only six more races each, there were almost twice as many unique race winners (20) during his stretch as there were during Yarborough’s (11). Additionally, there were twice as many unique pole winners (30) during Johnson’s three-year run than there were during Yarborough’s (15).