CONCORD, N.C. – He may have 83 wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now, but at one time in his career, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson only had one.
That’s exactly what Johnson will reflect on during the season finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway on Nov. 18, as he pilots a throwback paint scheme to his first Cup Series victory during the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Johnson will carry the iconic blue and gray Lowe’s Home Improvement colors that he raced during his rookie season in 2002 once more, hearkening back to his breakthrough win at his home race track, California’s Auto Club Speedway.
On April 28, 2002, Johnson led 62 of 250 laps in the NAPA Auto Parts 500 en route to entering victory lane at NASCAR’s top level for the first time. He passed former champion Bill Elliott with 14 laps to go and hung on to win as a rookie, his first of three victories that season.
However, though he went on to sweep Dover Int’l Speedway later in the year, Johnson noted that his first win coming at his home track will always be meaningful.
“You always want to win in front of your home fans, and the fact that we did it that day … in my first full-time season is something I’ll never forget,” said Johnson. “We ran so many years with a very similar scheme, a very similar look to that rookie paint scheme. It’ll be so nice to have it back.”
Could Johnson have ever dreamed on that day that he’d go on to have the kind of success that he has in the sport?
“No, never,” he admitted. “I swear to you, I only dreamed of winning a race, and to have 83 and to have tied Cale (Yarborough) is just absolutely mind-blowing.”
Lowe’s announced earlier in the season that they would not be back with Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports after 2018, marking the end of a 17-year relationship between driver and sponsor that has seen Johnson set or rival some of the greatest records in the history of the sport.
However, every journey started somewhere, and Johnson’s began with that 2002 scheme. It earned three wins, six top-five finishes, 21 top-10s, 838 laps led and four poles, including topping qualifying for the Daytona 500 in February of 2002.
“I definitely think it (the paint scheme) will start the process of remembering all the years with Lowe’s and where it started,” Johnson said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”