Comparing Nascars Three-Peats

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When Jimmie Johnson won the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he joined Cale Yarborough as one of only two drivers to win three straight championships at NASCAR’s highest level. A comparison of the two feats shows a few similarities along with numerous differences.

The Similarities

Adaptation to Change. Both drivers won their championships shortly after major changes to the sport. Yarborough won his after two different changes – the reduction of the number of races in 1972 and the implementation of the current point system in 1975. Johnson won his after the introduction of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2004 and during a period that saw the introduction of a new NASCAR Sprint Cup car (2007-08).

Foreshadowing Success. Both drivers came up just short prior to their breakthrough. Yarborough finished second in the point standings in 1973 and 1974 before his first championship in 1976. Johnson finished second in 2003 and 2004 before his first title in 2006.

The Differences

Varied Competition. Statistically, Johnson’s championships have come during a much more competitive era. Over the last three seasons, there have been more races, larger fields and more race and pole winners than during Yarborough’s championship era.



Though Johnson’s championships have come in seasons that had only six more races each, there were almost twice as many unique race winners (20) during his stretch as there were during Yarborough’s (11). Additionally, there were twice as many unique pole winners (30) during Johnson’s three-year run than there were during Yarborough’s (15).







Tighter Races. Johnson’s era features some of the most competitive racing in the history of NASCAR’s premier series.

While the number of lead changes per race remains relatively the same, the number of leaders during Johnson’s reign is more than twice that of Yarborough’s.

Johnson’s era also shows increases in cars running at the finish and finishing on the lead lap. The number of cars finishing the race has increased by almost 75%. The average number of cars on the lead lap has increased 10-fold.

Additionally, every race during Yarborough’s championship years had fewer than 10 cars finish on the lead lap, and 17 of the 90 races had just the race winner on the lead lap. In Johnson’s years there were just four races with less than 10 cars on the lead lap and not a single race saw the leader on a lap by himself.

Individual Statistics. Yarborough did have slightly more impressive numbers with regard to individual performance, but that is likely due to the higher level of competition during Johnson’s championships. Both had 10-win seasons but Yarborough had more poles, wins, top fives and top 10s as well as one fewer DNF.

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