Johnson’s success on the track was only surpassed when he and his wife, Chandra, welcomed their first daughter, Genevieve Marie on July 7, completing an incredible year professionally and personally.
Sprint Cup Series Career
After nine full seasons and 327 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Johnson enters his 10th season driving the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Lowe’s Chevrolet with momentum. Since entering the series full time in 2002, Johnson has never finished outside the top five in the final driver standings – and has only finished outside the top two twice.
Entering 2011, Johnson leads the series with a 16.21-percent win percentage (Jeff Gordon is second among active drivers at 13.29%) and is the only driver to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup each year since the format was adopted in 2004. He is the all-time Chase wins leader with 19.
Johnson, who joins Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as drivers with five championships, needed 327 races to win his fifth title. Petty took 655 events while Earnhardt required 390.
Johnson was also voted Driver of the Year for the fourth time in his career, joining Jeff Gordon as the only other four-time winner of the prestigious award.
Johnson made his first mark in the NASCAR history books in 2009. After becoming the first driver to ever win four consecutive Sprint Cup titles, he became the first race car driver to be named the Associated Press's Male Athlete of the Year in the organization’s 78-year history.
The 35-year-old El Cajon, Calif.-native clinched his first championship in 2006 finishing 56 points ahead of second-place finisher Matt Kenseth. He followed that up in dramatic fashion with a 77-point win over teammate Jeff Gordon in 2007. His third championship came in 2008 when he edged out Carl Edwards by 69 points. His fourth and record-breaking title came in 2009 when he finished 141 points ahead of teammate Mark Martin.
While Johnson’s success on and off the track has come in a relatively short amount of time, it took years of hard work, dedication and help from a variety of people to get there.
With the support of his family, Johnson’s racing career started on 50cc motorcycles at the age of five. His father, Gary, worked for a tire company and his mother, Cathy, drove a school bus. With Jimmie and younger brothers Jarit and Jessie in tow, the family spent most of their weekends camping and doing what they loved - racing. During these weekends, it wasn't unusual to see Gary preparing the tracks for the kids to race and Cathy running the concession stand.
Johnson was successful on motorcycles at an early age. By the time he was eight, he won the 60cc class championship despite blowing out his knee with several races remaining in the season.
From motorcycles, Johnson graduated to the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG) Stadium Racing Series where he won more awards. A 1993 meeting arranged by his mentor, supercross champion Rick Johnson (no relation), proved fortuitous for the eager driver.
While racing at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Rick Johnson introduced his young protégé to the Executive Director of GM Racing, Herb Fishel. The protégé lived up to his billing, impressing Fishel with his driving ability and business acumen.
Fishel kept his eye on Johnson that year. He later walked into an off-road racing team meeting and threw a picture of Johnson on the table informing the team that Johnson was the man they needed to drive their car.
Johnson seized the opportunity, spending the next few years driving buggies and trucks in off-road stadium and desert races. Johnson 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 his future car owners Stan and Randy Herzog while working in the series. The following year Johnson began driving the brothers' off-road truck. After two years, Johnson was ready for the next opportunity and crafted a proposal, taking it to his friend, Fishel. Fishel gave the owners and their ambitious driver a shot and in 1998 Johnson climbed behind the wheel of an American Speed Association car and got his first taste of pavement racing and never looked back.
His victories in the ASA Series paved the way for his move to NASCAR (initially in the Nationwide Series) where his winning ways continue as the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.
The Jimmie Johnson Foundation:
Johnson’s impact isn’t limited to the race track.
Johnson and his wife, Chandra, launched the Jimmie Johnson Foundation in 2006. The foundation is dedicated to helping children, families and communities in need. In March of 2007, the couple opened Jimmie Johnson’s Victory Lanes, a four lane bowling center for campers at Pattie and Kyle Petty’s Victory Junction Camp in Randleman, N.C.
In addition to supporting organizations such as the Hendrick Marrow Program and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Johnsons host the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Golf Tournament in San Diego each year. Since its inception, the tournament has raised more than $2 million for Johnson’s hometown, helping fund projects such as the construction of four Habitat for Humanity homes.
In 2009 and 2010, nearly $1.5 million was awarded through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation/Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Champions Grants program. Public schools in California, Oklahoma and North Carolina, where the Johnsons grew up and currently reside, received grants to address basic needs including science and technology, outdoor classrooms, playground construction and accelerated reading programs.
Through the 2010 season, in 327 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, Johnson's record includes: 53 wins, 25 poles, 134 top-five and 203 top-10 finishes.