DOVER, Del. – You could say tying Cale Yarborough’s 83 NASCAR Cup Series wins was on Jimmie Johnson’s mind Sunday at Dover International Speedway.
In fact, it was all over his helmet.
“It just felt really good last year to honor Dale (Earnhardt) and Richard (Petty) with the helmet that I wore at Homestead and was able to tie those guys with seven championships, and just kind of opened my mind to the opportunity I have,” Johnson explained, “to honor Cale Yarborough, to help younger fans know the name, know the face.”
The driver explained that he and his helmet painter had discussed a tribute helmet for weeks, and it arrived just in time for the Dover International Speedway race weekend.
It just so happened that Johnson tied Yarborough’s 83 career NASCAR Cup Series wins that very same weekend, moving into a tie for sixth all-time.
“I really anticipated wearing it more than one race,” Johnson said. “I'm not prepared for what my next plan is necessarily, so I might wear this helmet for a few more weeks, but it's just a great opportunity. A great opportunity for me to honor Cale.”
After Johnson’s win, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick was asked if he was at all superstitious about the driver wearing the helmet before he clinched his 83rd win.
“Oh, no,” Hendrick said quickly, cracking a smile. “I was more concerned about whether I could get the helmet.”
Whether or not the helmet ultimately ends up in the owner's hands, Johnson said the special designs have been a fun way to showcase various causes close to his heart.
“Drivers have always used their helmets as their voice and a way to honor someone or send a message, their own personality,” he said. “There's always been a lot of freedom with the driver's helmet, and I think it's just really been a neat opportunity for me to honor Dale and Richard and now Cale.”
And for Johnson, who always looked up to Yarborough, being able to wear the helmet while tying the NASCAR Hall of Famer made for a memorable moment.
“I was such a fan,” he said, “and it’s been an amazing journey along the way.”