10 Drivers Who Won For Junior Johnson
by Tom Jensen July 13, 2022
Inaugural Hall of Famer Junior Johnson fielded a lot of winning race cars as a NASCAR team owner.
In all of NASCAR’s nearly 75-year history, few racers left as big a mark on the sport as Junior Johnson, a member of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2010 along with William H.G. France, William C. France, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson was a hard-nosed driver in his day, winning 50 races, including the second Daytona 500 in 1960. He was also a masterful shade-tree mechanic and innovator, a former moonshine runner and a tremendously colorful and engaging personality.
On top of that, he was one of the sport’s most successful car owners, winning six championships, a total that trails only the 14 won by Hendrick Motorsports and the 10 earned by Petty Enterprises.
As a team owner, Johnson won 132 races, including 13 as an owner/driver.
The other 119 race wins for the Junior Johnson & Associates team were spread out among 10 drivers. Here they are:
Darel Dieringer – 1 victory, 1967
A native of Wilkes County, Junior Johnson’s home track naturally was North Wilkesboro Speedway. In 1967, Darel Dieringer lapped the field in Johnson’s No. 26 Ford to win the Gwyn Staley 400 at the North Carolina track. The victory was the seventh and final premier series race win of Dieringer’s career.
Earl Ross – 1, 1974
On September 29. 1974, Earl Ross drove a Junior Johnson & Associates Chevrolet to victory in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Like Darel Dieringer at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1967, Ross lapped the field. Ross also earned a permanent spot in the NASCAR record book by becoming the first – and to this date, only – Canadian driver to win a premier series race.
Earl Ross’ premier series rookie-of-the-year jacket from 1974 is on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Heritage Speedway.
Jimmy Spencer – 2, 1994
Junior Johnson had a reputation for innovation and creative interpretations of the NASCAR rule book. So when Jimmy Spencer, who had gone winless in his first five seasons in the premier series, suddenly won consecutive restrictor-plate races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in Johnson-built Fords in the summer of 1994, it raised some eyebrows. The victories in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona and the Diehard 500 at Talladega were Spencer’s only career wins in 478 starts over parts of 18 seasons.
Neil Bonnett – 3, 1985-86
After winning premier series championships with Hall of Fame driver Darrell Waltrip (2012) in 1981 and ’82, Junior Johnson & Associates expanded to a two-car team in 1984. The results were mixed. Hired to drive the team’s second Chevrolet, Neil Bonnett went winless in 1984. In 1985, however, Waltrip won his third championship with Johnson’s squad, while Bonnett finished a career-best fourth in points after winning early season races at Rockingham Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway. Bonnett also won the fall race at Rockingham in 1986, his final year with Johnson.
Terry Labonte – 4, 1987-89
After experimenting with a two-car team for three seasons, Junior Johnson & Associates reverted to a single-car operation in 1987. With Darrell Waltrip departed, Johnson hired 1984 premier series champion and Hall of Famer Terry Labonte (2016) to drive the No. 11 Chevrolet. In his first year with the team, Labonte won the fall race at North Wilkesboro and finished third in points. Then, in 1988, Labonte won in the spring at North Wilkesboro en route to a fourth-place points finish. Labonte swept both races at Pocono Raceway in 1989, his final year with the team, but slid to 10th in points.
Geoff Bodine – 4, 1990-91
The start of a new decade brought a new driver to Junior Johnson & Associates, New Yorker Geoff Bodine, who in 1990 won both races at Martinsville Speedway and a third at Pocono. Bodine finished an impressive third in points with the team in ’90, but the next year he won only once and departed the squad after he slumped to 14th in points.
Bill Elliott – 6, 1992-94
Hall of Famer Bill Elliott (2015) opened the 1992 NASCAR season on fire. After finishing 27th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Elliott won the next four races at Rockingham, Richmond, Atlanta and Darlington, all in his No. 11 Junior Johnson & Associates Ford Thunderbird. With six races to go, Elliott had a huge lead of 154 points over fellow Hall of Famer Davey Allison. Then disaster struck: In the next five races, Elliott had four finishes of 26th or worse, dropping to third in points heading into the last race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The 1992 Hooters 500 turned out to be one of the most famous races in history, as it was Richard Petty’s (2010) last race and Jeff Gordon’s (2019) first. Elliott won the race, but lost the championship to Alan Kulwicki (2019), who finished second. But Kulwicki led 103 laps to 102 for Elliott, earning the 5 bonus points for most laps led and finishing the season 10 points ahead of Elliott. In the next two seasons, Elliott won only once and finished eighth and 10th in points before departing the team.
LeeRoy Yarbrough – 10, 1968-71
LeeRoy Yarbrough, no relation to Cale Yarborough, was arguably the first superstar driver hired by Junior Johnson, although his career ultimately turned cruelly tragic. In 1968, his first year with Junior Johnson & Associates, Yarbrough won a pair of races. If 1968 was good, ’69 was stellar. Yarbrough won seven races, including a sweep of the Daytona 500 and Firecracker 400, as well as a victory in two more NASCAR majors, the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. But a series of hard crashes in 1970 cut Yarbrough’s career short. He was eventually institutionalized after allegedly trying to strangle his mother in 1980. Yarbrough died four years later after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a fall while in a hospital.
Darrell Waltrip – 43, 1981-86
Put simply, in the first half of the 1980s, there was no combination tougher to beat in NASCAR than driver Darrell Waltrip (2012) and car owner Junior Johnson. Waltrip’s 43 race victories from 1981-86 dwarfed the 22 wins posted by his closest challenger, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (2011), during the same period. Waltrip won championships in 1981, ’82 and ’85, and in his first two championship seasons won 12 races each year. Waltrip also won the first NASCAR All-Star Race in 1985. And during his tenure with Junior Johnson & Associates, Waltrip won seven consecutive times at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 premier series championship car is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit, which runs until January 2023.
Cale Yarborough – 45, 1974-80
Not only did Cale Yarborough (2012) deliver the first premier series owner championship for Junior Johnson & Associates, he also won the team’s first three titles, all from 1976-78. Yarborough was NASCAR’s first driver to win three consecutive premier series titles, a mark he alone held until Jimmie Johnson equaled it in 2008. In addition, Yarborough won more races than any of the team’s other drivers from 1965-95. In his three championship seasons, the South Carolina driver won a total of 28 races, with 70 top-five finishes.
Cale Yarborough’s 1978 premier series championship car is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit, which runs until January 2023.