DOVER, Del. – Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson tied one of his idols, Cale Yarborough, for sixth on the all-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list.
And it made for quite the celebration in Victory Lane.
“I was very fortunate to have a similar experience when I tied (Yarborough) with the three consecutive championships and he surprised me at the banquet,” Johnson recalled. “But to tie him at 83 wins, I swear to you, I only dreamed of winning a race, and to have 83 and to tie him is just absolutely mind-blowing.”
Growing up in Southern California, Johnson always looked up to Yarborough. There was just something about the driver of the No. 28 car that stood out to the young racer.
“He reminded me of my grandfather a little bit in his personality, so that was a takeaway or a reason that I watched him and was into him,” Johnson recalled. “He won a lot when I was watching him race at that point in time, and then that 28 car just looked good. There was just something about it, the look of the car – it looked mean. It was fast."
“For a young kid, there was just a lot about his personality, his driving style, his winning.”
That’s why Sunday’s achievement meant that much more to Johnson. It was on display via his race helmet – a tribute to Yarborough and his 83 wins – and even a retro Yarborough hat he donned in Victory Lane.
It brought back a funny memory from Johnson’s childhood, when he was such a fan of the veteran driver.
“I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents and my brother,” Johnson reminisced. “We were driving across the country and we pulled up to a Hardee’s. I had no idea it was a burger stand and I really thought when I walked in the door I was going to Cale Yarborough’s race shop.
“It was very disappointing,” he laughed. “I had a burger and left and then understood the world of sponsorship.”
With Johnson tying the NASCAR Hall of Famer in wins, a fellow Hall of Famer, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, said he sees plenty in common between the two drivers.
“I watched Cale ‑‑ he was one of the toughest, hardest racers that I ever watched race, fearless, and drove the car over the edge,” Hendrick said. “Jimmie does the same thing, but Jimmie makes it look smooth.
“I think they're ‑‑ I guess I like (Bill) Parcells' quote, "You are what your record says you are," and the way I remember Cale, they're a little bit different in their approach, but their record is the same.”
And that means the world to Johnson.
“Cale, you’re the man. Thank you for all you have done for our sport,” he said. “To my 83 wins, I’m just so proud that it’s come with one owner, one sponsor, one manufacturer, one crew chief, one team. This is a very special journey this whole Hendrick Lowe’s team has been on.”