FONTANA, Calif. – El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson returned to the Auto Club Speedway’s Walk of Fame on Friday morning, a special shrine he is all too familiar with at what he affectionately calls his “home track.”
As the track’s winningest driver once again soaked his shoes and signed his name in the fresh cement next to the latest plaque commemorating last year’s drive into victory lane at Auto Club Speedway, Johnson couldn’t help but to glance at his first plaque situated just two spots down – dated April 28, 2002 – and take himself down an impromptu trip along memory lane.
“That one was pre-beard, with a couple of extra chins. It’s funny to see how much my signature has changed over the years,” Johnson remarked in front of a crowd about 250 fans before revealing a humble thought he shared about his rookie year in 2002.
“I was so fearful that I wasn’t going to be employed for long. With Jeff Gordon handing over his championship team to me, if I didn’t win a race my rookie year, I might not have had a job at the end of the year.”
Johnson made that April 28, 2002 race the first victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. Fast forward to 2016, Johnson made last year’s 20th-Annual Auto Club 400 his sixth Cup Series win at Auto Club Speedway, and the 77th of his 80 career Cup Series wins on the way to his seventh Cup Series season title.
Johnson fittingly cemented his ACS legend while winning the 2016 Auto Club 400 while driving in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. On the two-mile oval, his car was furnished with the Superman logo. In the winner’s circle, his body draped in the Superman cape.
Starting on the inside of Row 10 in the 39-car field, Johnson led the race for 25 laps. He was running 15th when three-time Auto Club 400 winner Kyle Busch blew a tire on lap 200, prompting the race’s sixth and final caution flag.
The final caution and Johnson’s ensuing pitstop allowed Johnson to position himself near the front of the pack on the restart on lap 204, where he passed Kevin Harvick for the white flag and held him off for the checkered flag on lap 205 to win what was, arguably, the most thrilling race and dramatic finish on the 2016 NASCAR circuit.
“Last year’s race was exciting,” Johnson said. “We didn’t lead many laps but we led the one that counted the most. It made it such an emotional rollercoaster.”
Johnson’s six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race wins at Auto Club Speedway are twice as many as any other driver. In between 2002 and 2016, he grabbed his other four wins on Auto Club Speedway’s two-mile oval in a six-race stretch from 2007-10. His five runner-up finishes at ACS are also a record.
“It’s obviously a track that brings back a lot of memories for me,” said Johnson, who currently resides in Charlotte, NC and mentioned that he has sandwiched a California vacation with his wife, Chandra, and daughters Genevieve and Lydia around this weekend’s Auto Club 400.
Said Johnson: “It’s fun to come home and show my family around. I really enjoy racing here. We’ve all watched this track age. This track really puts on a show.”
Auto Club Speedway continues to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2017. Located on the east end of the FanZone just outside of the track’s Gate B entrance, the Auto Club Speedway Walk of Fame is always a fan-favorite, must-see landmark.
With his six victories in Fontana, Johnson can be considered the patriarch of the 15 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers to be enshrined at Auto Club Speedway’s Walk of Fame. The rest of the honor roll includes three-time ACS winners Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth, two-time winner Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield, Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards.
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