NASCAR could end a streak that began in 1958

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) /

With Jimmie Johnson’s retirement, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season could provide something the sport hasn’t seen since 1957.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson announced at the end of the 2019 season that the 2020 season would be his last, and despite the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the 2020 schedule, he stuck to it and retired once the season concluded.

He retired having won 83 races, good for a sixth place tie on the all-time list, and seven titles, which ranks in a tie atop the all-time list with Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out a return to the Cup Series, however. The 45-year-old El Cajon, California native is done competing full-time, but he hasn’t ruled out competing in select races from time to time in future years.

But as of now, he is not slated to return to the Cup Series in any way in 2021. He is set to run the road and street course races for Chip Ganassi Racing in the upcoming IndyCar season.

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As a result, the Cup Series could see something in 2021 that it hasn’t seen in 1957, and it hinges on Johnson competing in zero of the 36 races on the schedule. Johnson began competing in the Cup Series in 2001, and he became a full-time driver in 2002, a role he maintained until his 2020 retirement.

Fellow seven-time champion Earnhardt competed from 1975 until his death, which came as a result of a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. He became a full-time driver in 1979 and maintained that role until his death.

Fellow seven-time champion Petty competed from 1958 through 1992. He drove his first full season in 1968, but he was classified as a full-time driver for the first time in 1960.

So from 1958 through 2020, there has been at least one seven-time champion or eventual seven-time champion competing at NASCAR’s highest level.

That may not be the case in 2021.

Of course, that’s not to say it isn’t possible. Kyle Busch is a two-time champion, and there are quite a few other former champions in the field, including reigning champion Chase Elliott, who is just 25 years old. Other active former champions include Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.

But if there are indeed no eventual seven-time champions in this year’s lineup, the 2021 season would become the first season for which that can be said since the 1957 season, which was one year before Petty made his Cup Series debut.

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The 2021 season is scheduled to get underway this afternoon with the 63rd annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Fox is set to broadcast the race live beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.