HAMPTON, Ga. – As he took his victory lap around Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson held his hand out the window, lifting three fingers as a sign of respect.
“I saw a lot of threes coming back,” he said.
Sunday afternoon, Johnson clinched his 76th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, moving him into a tie with Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time wins list.
The milestone made the trip to Victory Lane all the more special to the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS.
“I entered the sport just hoping I could win a race and keep a job for a few years, and to have 76 and tie Dale Earnhardt Sr. is something I'm very, very proud of,” he said. “I know what it means to me, and I know what it means to our sport and everyone in it working, as well.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. called Johnson’s accomplishment “awesome,” and he was glad to take the checkered flag right behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
“I knew this day was coming, but I didn't know it until we got out of the car,” he said. “I'm glad if he's going to win and tie that record, I'm certainly glad that I got to run second today.”
After the race, he made sure to make his way to Victory Lane to congratulate his teammate on tying his father’s win total.
“You know, knowing dad and knowing Jimmie's character, they would have gotten along tremendously and dad would have thought the world of him,” he smiled.
No. 48 team crew chief Chad Knaus said he couldn’t help but be proud of Johnson for matching Earnhardt Sr., who he called “an icon in our sport.”
“It’s amazing,” he smiled. “Jimmie is pretty awesome, isn't he? Let's be honest, he's just a heck of a race car driver.”
For Johnson, the number certainly means a lot.
"It's amazing to me that I got all 76 with one crew chief in Chad Knaus, one team in Hendrick Motorsports and one sponsor, Lowe's," he said.
But he added that the achievement is about more than just the number.
“I didn't have a chance to race against (Earnhardt Sr.), unfortunately -- there's been a big void in my mind about not having that chance to race against him,” he said. “So to tie him today, for myself personally, it gives me a little something. It's a little bit of attachment to the great Dale Earnhardt and something I'm very proud of.”
“This is a very, very special and meaningful day.”