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NASCAR legend Junior Johnson dies at 88

The driver and owner's career had spanned the sport's moonshining roots and its modern era, NASCAR says.
Credit: AP
Dale Earnhardt Jr., right, poses with NASCAR legend Junior Johnson in the media center prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at the Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. Earnhardt announced a Goody's sponsorship of his car next year. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

NASCAR legend Junior Johnson has died at the age of 88. More than a great in stock-car racing, his career spanned the sport’s history from its moonshining roots to the modern era.

NASCAR said on Friday that Johnson’s health was declining, and he had entered hospice care earlier this week. They say the NASCAR Hall of Fame confirmed his passing.

Johnson has the most race wins of any driver without a championship, winning 50 races in NASCAR’s top division. He had 132 victories and six championships as a team owner. He won the second running of the Daytona 500 in 1960, then added two more victories as an owner in 1969 and 1977.

A North Carolina native, Johnson, aka the “Wilkes County Wildman,” was dubbed as “The Last American Hero,” following a 1965 essay in Esquire by Tom Wolfe.

“Junior Johnson truly was the ‘Last American Hero,’” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. “From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit. He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner.”

He was born Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. in the Wilkesboro area in 1931, but became known as “Junior” being the fourth of seven children.

His home in the small Wilkes County town of Ronda is only a short drive from one of NASCAR’s charter tracks, the North Wilkesboro Speedway. The area is roughly 80 miles north of Charlotte.

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