Jimmie Johnson is one of the most accomplished professional athletes of his era. The only race car driver in history to be named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, he is a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, putting him just one behind the all-time record shared by stock car racing icons Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson’s appeal goes well beyond the racetrack. He was the first athlete ever to co-host ESPN’s flagship news show, “SportsCenter,” and appeared as himself on Nickelodeon’s animated “Bubble Guppies.” He has been a guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Live with Kelly and Michael,” “The Today Show” and “The Ellen Degeneres Show.” An avid triathlete, Johnson has participated in NBC’s coverage of both the Olympics and Tour de France. In print, he has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (twice), Men’s Fitness, Parade and TV Guide, among others.
In 2006, Johnson and wife Chandra launched the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, which is dedicated to helping children, families and communities in need. It focuses on funding K-12 public education, primarily through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation/Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Champions Grant program. Grants have been awarded to 94 school projects located in California, Oklahoma and North Carolina, where the Johnsons grew up and currently reside. Grant projects include science and technology, health and fitness programs, trade-based programs, school improvements, language and literary programs and the arts. The foundation raises funds through an annual golf tournament in San Diego and the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Wellness Challenge, a series of events held around Charlotte, North Carolina. To date, more than $8.8 million has been contributed to various organizations.
With the support of his family, Johnson’s racing career started on 50cc motorcycles at age 5. Father Gary worked for a tire company while mother Cathy drove a school bus. With Jimmie and younger brothers Jarit and Jessie in tow, the family spent most weekends camping and doing what they loved – racing up and down the West Coast.
Growing up in El Cajon, California, just outside San Diego, Johnson was a motorcycle prodigy. At just 8 years old, he won the 60cc class local track championship despite blowing out his knee with several races remaining in the season. From motorcycles, Johnson graduated to the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group Stadium Racing Series, where he had even more success.
A 1993 meeting arranged by Johnson’s mentor, supercross champion Rick Johnson (no relation), proved fortuitous. While racing at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Rick Johnson introduced him to Herb Fishel, the executive director of General Motors Racing. The protégé lived up to his billing, impressing Fishel with driving ability and business acumen. Fishel kept his eye on Johnson that year and later helped him land an opportunity with an off-road racing team.
Johnson seized it, spending the next few years driving buggies and trucks in off-road stadium and desert races. He also improved his ability to connect with fans and potential sponsors by reporting for ESPN in the Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association Series (SODA). In 1995, the work paid off in another way as Johnson met future car owners Stan and Randy Herzog while working in the series.
In 1996, Johnson began driving the Herzog brothers’ off-road truck. After two years, he was ready for the next opportunity and crafted a proposal for Fishel, who gave the owners and their ambitious driver a shot. In 1998, Johnson climbed behind the wheel of an American Speed Association (ASA) car for his first taste of pavement racing. His ASA victories opened the door for his move to NASCAR.
Johnson had success in the competitive XFINITY Series, running a full schedule for the Herzog family from 1998-2001. He racked up 24 top-10 finishes and his first career NASCAR win (Chicagoland Speedway) in 2001. But midway through season he received news that his sponsor would not return and the team would potentially fold. Concerned for his future, Johnson boldly introduced himself to legendary NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon. The conversation would change his life.
Gordon explained Hendrick Motorsports was starting a fourth team, and Johnson’s name was the only one on the list. In the following weeks, Johnson had a meeting with team owner Rick Hendrick, Gordon and potential sponsor Lowe’s. He ultimately signed with Hendrick Motorsports and began his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career with a three-race schedule in 2001.
In the first race of his 2002 rookie season, Johnson, then 25, won the pole position for NASCAR’s premier event, the Daytona 500. As the full-time driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, he won his first Cup race in his home state of California in just his 13th start. Led by crew chief Chad Knaus, he finished his banner rookie season with three victories, four pole positions and an impressive fifth-place finish in the championship standings.
From 2002-2005, Johnson recorded a series-best 45 wins and an average result of 3.5 in the season-ending standings. In 2003 and 2004, he finished second in the title hunt.
Johnson opened 2006 with a dominating win in the Daytona 500 and didn’t look back. The season brought great success as he won five races, including the Brickyard 400 at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After knocking on the door for four years, Johnson broke through to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and the sixth for Hendrick Motorsports.
What followed was one of the greatest championship runs in sports history. Johnson dominated the NASCAR circuit, winning five consecutive titles from 2006-2011 and becoming the only NASCAR driver to win more than three titles in a row. He is the youngest driver ever to win five championships and accomplished the feat in fewer races (327) than anyone in history.
The 2013 season featured a sixth title run for Johnson, who opened the year with his second career Daytona 500 win. The victory marked the first for a new Chevrolet SS race car and kicked off a season in which Johnson scored six wins and led the standings for 28 of 36 weeks, including the final five.
Now in his 15th full season with both crew chief Knaus and primary sponsor Lowe’s Home Improvement, Johnson finds himself tied for seventh with the legendary Dale Earnhardt on NASCAR’s all-time win list and fourth in the sport's modern era (1972–present). He is the all-time winningest Sprint Cup driver at California Speedway (five wins), Charlotte Motor Speedway (seven wins), Dover International Speedway (10 wins), Kansas Speedway (three wins, tied with Gordon), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (four wins) and Texas Motor Speedway (six wins). Johnson is the only driver to have qualified for the championship-deciding Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup every year since its inception in 2004 and has averaged more than five wins per season throughout his career.
Johnson married Chandra Janway in 2004 and is father to daughters Genevieve and Lydia. Away from the track, he focuses on his rigorous and well-documented fitness regimen. An avid cyclist, runner and swimmer, he has competed in numerous half marathons and triathlons, including a Half Iron Man where he placed 15th overall.