Jimmie Johnson or Cale Yarborough: Who's the Better All-Time Driver?

Paul CarreauAnalyst IJune 23, 2011

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 05:  (L-R) Three time cup series champions Jimmie Johnson and Cale yarborough pose after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria on December 5, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

Until Jimmie Johnson came along, Cale Yarborough was the only driver in NASCAR history to record three consecutive series championships. Johnson has since gone on to surpass the mark set by Yarborough, and has now won five straight championships.

These two drivers have been linked together for many years now, due in large part to their championship stretches. Yarborough was just inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and Johnson is a lock to one day be inducted as well.

With as much comparison as there is between the two, the only question that remains is which driver is the better all-time?

If you base it solely on championships, then Johnson is the clear cut winner of the debate. If you base it on wins, Yarborough has 29 more of those. Granted, he has also made many more starts than Johnson. So, I guess we have to look a little closer.

Yarborough made 560 starts in a career that spanned 31 years. As mentioned, he won 83 times. That is a 14.8 win percentage.

He finished in the top 10 319 times (57.0 percent of the time), and 255 he ended the race in the top five (45.5 percent of the time).

Johnson meanwhile has made 342 starts, and collected the checkered flag 54 times. His win percentage is 15.8 percent.

Johnson has posted 212 top-10s (62.0 percent of the time), and of those 139 resulted in a top five finish, which translates to 40.6 percent.

When you look at the numbers, Johnson leads the way in championships, while making 200 extra starts have given Yarborough the lead in wins, top-10s and top fives.

At his current rate, Johnson would catch Yarborough on the all-time wins list in his 526th start, which would give him an additional 34 races to pass the driver he has been most compared to.

Some of their other statistics could balance out the argument for Yarborough. He has led 20,000 more laps in his career than Johnson.

In fact, Yarborough was the leader for 21.8 percent of the laps that were run during his career. Johnson meanwhile, has only been the leader for just over 11 percent of the laps run throughout his career.

Yarborough sat on the pole 69 times in his career, Johnson thus far has totalled just 25 pole positions.

Across the board, a lot of their career numbers seem to balance each other out. When trying to ultimately figure out whether Johnson or Yarborough is the better driver, I think it comes down to the era in which they ran.

While Yarborough had to compete against some of the all-time greats like Richard Petty, David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip, Johnson has had his fair of greats to battle as well. He has gone toe-to-toe with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin.

What impresses me the most about Johnson is the fact that in today's NASCAR there is more parity than at any other time in history.

The cars are all nearly identical, there is more strategy involved in the sport than ever before, and through it all Johnson still continues to win championships and put up gaudy numbers.

While there is no denying that Yarborough is more than worthy of his Hall of Fame spot, in time it seems likely that Johnson will surpass most of, if not all of the statistics that Yarborough put up.

While right now we usually compare Johnson with Yarborough, in a few years we are going to have to start comparing him with the two members of the seven championship club.