Jeff Gordon Reveals How Jimmie Johnson’s Darlington Finesse Paved the Way for His Legendary HMS Career

Published 01/20/2024, 8:44 AM EST

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Jimmie Johnson is undoubtedly the greatest driver of the modern era but had it not been for Jeff Gordon, fans might not have witnessed a third driver winning the NASCAR Cup Series seven times. The 48-year-old was recently inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and deservedly so. Several icons were present at the ceremony including Gordon. The four-time Cup Series champion played a big role in bringing Johnson to Hendrick Motorsports where he achieved all the success in the world. Gordon recently revealed that it was Johnson’s driving prowess in Darlington that had massively impressed him and that began the whole process of getting him to the team.

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Johnson made his full-time debut in NASCAR’s biggest competition in 2002. Since then, there has been no turning back. He spent his entire Cup Series career at Rick Hendrick’s team, winning a whopping 83 races and finishing in the top-10 374 times. Jeff Gordon might have put Hendrick Motorsports on the map but no one was nearly as dominant as Jimmie Johnson. He holds the record for winning the most consecutive Cup titles with five in a row from 2006 to 2010.

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The story of how Jeff Gordon made Jimmie Johnson’s acquaintance is quite an intriguing tale. And perhaps it wouldn’t have happened without Rick Hendrick‘s late son Ricky Hendrick. At the time, Gordon had already made a name for himself as one of the top drivers in NASCAR. Ricky had the job of testing an Xfinity Series car in Darlington and his dad had asked Gordon to assist him in that session. That is where he first saw a fresh-faced Jimmie Johnson doing what he does best on track.

Speaking at the 2024 Hall of Fame ceremony, the 52-year-old said that he was particularly impressed with how Johnson drove up the track coming out of turn 1, carried the wall, and came down with poise that made him go, “Exactly like that.” As the not-so-old saying goes, game recognizes game and the HMS star knew that he was witnessing a future Cup champion.

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“I always think I played a small part but the timings certainly worked out well for all of us. Yeah, Ricky Hendrick was testing an Xfinity car down in Darlington and Rick said ‘Hey, would you mind going down there? You’re pretty good at Darlington, could you maybe help Ricky out,’ and I just remember getting down there and I was on top of the truck while his car was getting warmed up and I remember watching some other cars,” Gordon reminisced.

“One of the first cars on the track was this red, while, blue colored #92. I wasn’t familiar with the car or the driver or anything and…he’d blast off into turn 1 and just moved, went right up to the top to the wall, carried the wall and came down and I was like, ‘Exactly like that.’,” Gordon added.

It did not take long for Jeff Gordon to go up to Jimmie Johnson and introduce himself. That was the starting point of one of the most successful driver-team pairings in the history of the sport.

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When Jeff Gordon made the effort to introduce himself to the future seven-time Cup champion

Jeff Gordon was so impressed with Jimmie Johnson’s skill at Darlington, that he had to ask if the latter had ever raced on the track before. When an answer came in the negative, the 52-year-old was left stunned. At that moment, he knew that he had to make the future seven-time Cup Series champion’s acquaintance, and that effort developed into a beautiful friendship and a jaw-dropping career.

“I was like woah okay. So I went down to the garage and I went and introduced myself to Jimmie and just one of the finest young men…and just like, so impressed with him and just one day after another, we kept crossing paths and talking more and things that were happening that would evolve into a fourth team at Hendrick all just seemed to line up,” he added.

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It’s unlikely that fans would be witness to another career like that anytime soon. So celebrating the most recent GOAT of NASCAR is all that fans can do in that respect and they will happily do it. Jimmie Johnson won over a lot of fans during his time as a full-timer and he still has thousands of admirers across the country.

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Written by:

Nilavro Ghosh

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Edited by:

Abhishek Ramesh

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