Seeing a crop of NASCAR legends all leave the sport in the latter stages of this decade has created a unique mark on a younger track like Texas Motor Speedway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, and Elliott Sadler have all called it quits full-time since the end of 2013, and with them goes 17 of the 38 Cup Series winners in track history.
That number is about to exponentially grow.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson announced a week ago that he’s calling it a career following the 2020 season.
“The feeling just became real,” Johnson said about knowing it was time to hang it up. “It was such a profound moment that I really take it back to the moment in time where I knew I wanted to buy a ring for her (wife Chandra). It was just that strong in my stomach. I was like, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do.’”
The man with more sets of six-shooters from No Limits, Texas, than any other officially has just two shots left at the 1.5-mile circuit.
That being said, here’s a look inside all seven of Johnson’s triumphs at TMS.
Highlighted by a door-to-door battle with Matt Kenseth over the course of the final handful of laps, Johnson triumphed in large part due to pit strategy. On the race’s final pit stop, Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus called for four tires to Kenseth’s two. It was clear in the final laps. Kenseth was hanging onto his No. 17 until JJ finally drove by with two laps to go to take the win.
Johnson grabbed the Chase for the Championship lead over teammate Jeff Gordon that night on his way to back-to-back Cup Series titles.
Quotable: “I expected a good fight. I didn’t think his two tires would last that long or he’d be that good. I’m just glad I was able to get by. There wasn’t much time left to get it done.”
Five years to the day after his first triumph at TMS, Johnson led 168 laps and took advantage of a caution with five to go to secure the win over Brad Keselowski. The 48 and 2 were beating and banging inside 10 laps, but on the final restart Johnson ran away from the field. Just like in 2007, Johnson’s team took four tires on the last stop while Keselowski’s opted for two, and it made all the difference.
Johnson left Texas seven points ahead of Keselowski in the championship, but it was the No. 2 driver who won his first championship two weeks later.
Quotable: “It was an awesome race. The gloves are off, and it’s bare knuckle fighting … caution came out and got a great restart and got by him. Knew we had the speed if I could just get by him.”
He was as dominant as he’d ever been at Texas in winning back-to-back in the track’s fall playoff race, leading 255 laps and winning by more than four seconds. He increased his championship lead from two to seven over Matt Kenseth, and would secure Cup Series title number six two weeks later. Johnson ran the fastest lap in the race an impressive 99 times.
Quotable: “I hope history doesn’t repeat itself. That’s the perfect example that this thing isn’t over until it’s over. Last year we had eight great races and two bad ones and didn’t get the championship. Very important to finish strong and there are two very important races left.”
The race will always be remembered as the time Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski threw hands in Texas, but it was the already-eliminated-from-the-playoffs Johnson who won, leading 191 laps in the process. Johnson took the lead on the Green-White-Checkered finish that saw Keselowski and Gordon make contact, ending Gordon’s day. JJ never looked back, becoming the track’s Cup Series leader in wins and laps led. He also became the first driver to win the same race at Texas three straight times.
Quotable: “It was a Chase that was tough for us but to be able to redeem ourselves and come out here with a victory is really, really cool.”
In the spring of 2015, Johnson finally did something he hadn’t done at Texas Motor Speedway: win in the spring. He had Kevin Harvick, and to some extent Dale Earnhardt Jr., in hot pursuit in the final 14 laps, but neither driver could make a pass on the now five-time TMS winner. Johnson led 128 laps for the win.
Quotable: “I lost my voice. I woke up with a cold this morning. We’ve had an awesome, awesome start to the year. I know the results don’t show it, but great support from our fans and our sponsors. We kept plugging away at it.”
Four straight years he came to Texas Motor Speedway for the fall playoff race, and four straight years he left with the trophy. Johnson was only the seventh driver in NASCAR history to accomplish the feat, and he did it by spoiling the most dominant performance in track history. Brad Keselowski led 312 laps, a number still unmatched at No Limits, Texas, but the 48 reeled him in with four laps to go and ran away from him for a 1.082 margin of victory. He led just six laps in the race.
Quotable: “He got real loose off of 2, I had a big run off the top, and I went for a big slide job into 3 and 4 kind of like the Eldora stuff I learned and I got the win.”
Seven-time officially became Seven-time Part Two with his seventh win at Texas, his first on the repaved and reconfigured surface at the track. The hydration system in Johnson’s car went out early in the race forcing him to take three IV bags after the checkered flag, but he led the final 17 laps for his most recent win at the track. He hadn’t finished better than ninth in the season’s first six races, the worst start of his career.
Quotable: “I guess I remembered how to drive. Just real proud of this team. Tough track and conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse and we were able to execute all day long.”
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