Anyone who doubted Jimmie Johnson’s ability to win an incredible seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title just needed to look under the hood of his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to know that Johnson was in good hands.
Despite starting at the back of the field in the final race at Homestead, Fla., Johnson pulled ahead to win that race and a historic seventh Sprint Cup title, joining legends Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, the only others to hold seven Sprint Cup championships. His win marks another milestone in Valvoline's exceptional motorsports history.
“When I was coming to the checkered flag I had to really look closely at it going by to make sure it was,” said Johnson, who only led the final three laps of the race. “Like is this really happening? I don’t know what I screamed on the radio, but I know it didn’t sound like my voice I was thinking, you’d better take your finger off the button. That didn’t sound like you. Yes, that was as dramatic and as crazy as I’ve ever experienced in my racing career.”
If Johnson didn't sound like himself as he joined Petty and Earnhardt Sr. on this short list of seven-time championship winners, maybe he sounded like Jeff Gordon or Darrell Waltrip or Cale Yarborough.
Image: Cale Yarborough from Valvoline archives
It was Gordon in 1995 who was powered by Valvoline to his first Sprint Cup title during a season in which he won seven times. And the boisterous Waltrip found Victory Lane 12 times in 1982 when he won the title with Valvoline under the hood. Hall-of-Famer Yarborough won three consecutive titles from 1976 to 1978 – the first two in a Chevy Laguna and the third in a Cutlass. During that three-title run, Yarborough and Valvoline won an incredible 28 of the 90 races and reeled off an astounding 74 top-10 finishes.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that Johnson made NASCAR history as Valvoline celebrates its 150th year of being the country’s first trademarked motor oil brand. Valvoline has been powering winners on the track since 1895 but few of its champs have taken such a winding road to a title as Johnson did in 2016.
After winning two of the first five races of the season to secure a Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship spot, Johnson didn’t win another race until the Chase began. But like the true champion he is, Johnson was at his best when the stakes were highest. He advanced to the third round of the Chase with a win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He then secured a spot in the championship round with his win at Martinsville.
Johnson said that he knew he had a chance during that final race.
“There was this weird, comfortable confidence I had all night long,” he said. “Maybe weird is the wrong word to use, but I felt like something was going to happen, and I was going to be okay with it. For a while I came to grips with the reality of it being third, fourth, somewhere in there and shaking somebody else’s hand and being happy for them, and then it changed so quick at the end.”