Yarborough Surprises Johnson
December 6, 2008 | 12:30 P.M. EST
Followed by a rousing standing ovation, Yarborough presented the championship ring to 2008 series champion Jimmie Johnson during this year’s annual ceremony.
The two champions will be forever linked in NASCAR lore. This season, Johnson joined Yarborough as the only drivers to win three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships. Yarborough accomplished the historic feat from 1976-78.
During Yarborough’s incredible three-year stretch, he posted 28 wins, 70 top-five and 74 top-10 finishes.
"Somebody finally did it,” Yarborough said. “I set a pretty good record, didn't I? It took them 30 years to tie it. There are only two of us who have done it in the 60 years of the sport. That's a pretty good accomplishment. You know, I haven't been to this banquet in several years, but tonight I feel like I got my racing spirit back. You know, all he really did is tie the record – he still has to break it. He still has some work to do. I want to congratulate Jimmie; he's a great man and a great racer. I know he's going to win some more championships. Maybe he can skip a year though."
Yarborough’s famous swagger continues to this day. During his speech, he told team owner Rick Hendrick that if there was a ride open in his stable, he could have the first 70-year-old series champion. Yarborough turns 70 next March.
Johnson matched Yarborough’s record with another typically brilliant performance. In 2008, Johnson had seven wins, 15 top fives and 22 top 10s.
"What a surprise and what an honor to have Cale present me with the championship ring,” Johnson said. “I'm pretty much floored.”
The Yarborough ring presentation was the culmination of a night filled with memory-making moments.
Earlier in the program, Betty Jane France – widow of former NASCAR Chairman and CEO Bill France Jr. – introduced Academy Award winning actor Kevin Costner, who made some remarks commemorating the 60th anniversary season of NASCAR. Costner was later joined on stage by seven-time champion Richard Petty, who spoke on the impact NASCAR has had on his life and the tremendous growth of the sport.
Also in attendance was Academy Award nominee Tom Cruise, who played Cole Trickle in the NASCAR-themed film Days of Thunder.