Petty doesn't expect Johnson to stop at six
November 15, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Richard Petty may currently share the record for most championships at NASCAR's highest level, but the King wouldn't be surprised if that mark is eclipsed during the Jimmie Johnson era.
Petty shares the record of seven championships with Dale Earnhardt in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and Johnson can crawl within one title of that mark by clinching his sixth crown in Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A 200-time race winner at the sport's highest level, Petty doesn't expect the Hendrick Motorsports driver to stop there.
Does that mean Johnson is capable of winning eight?
"Yeah," Petty said Friday. "They've shown that in the past. If you look back and look at how long Petty Enterprises lasted, and won championships and won races and stuff for a lot of years. Right now … the Hendrick operation is the only one that's done that good and lasted that long to compete with what they did with Petty Enterprises."
Johnson leads second-place Matt Kenseth by 28 points in the standings, and needs to finish 23rd or better Sunday to secure his sixth title.
"I think he's got all the stars lined up," Petty said. "It's another one of those where it's his year. I don’t see it without -- what do they have down here? -- one of those sinkholes taking care of him would be about the only thing that would take care of it."
Barring that unlikelihood, Johnson would become only the third six-time champion in NASCAR -- a notable accomplishment in its own right, given that it took 26 years for the sport to have its first six-time champion in Petty and another 18 seasons for Earnhardt to duplicate the feat. If Johnson clinches Sunday, his sixth title would come 20 years after Earnhardt's, and in just his 12th full-time season at NASCAR's top level. At 38, Johnson is also the same age Petty was when he won his sixth championship.
All of which would make a record-tying seventh title a distinct possibility.
Should that happen, Petty would welcome Johnson to the club.
"More or less," the King said. "Right now it's seven and seven. It'll be seven, seven and seven. And he's liable to go to eight to 10. The way the situation is now, what they've got together and what the competition's got together, if it doesn't change, if somebody doesn't get better or (Johnson doesn't get) worse, it's going to continue to be the same thing."
Petty spoke Friday after Richard Petty Motorsports announced a partnership with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on the "Fresh From Florida" campaign, which will appear as primary sponsor on Aric Almirola's No. 43 car for the Sprint Cup race at Darlington, and for three events in the Nationwide Series.
But the conversation soon turned to Johnson, and the prospect of him matching or exceeding the record of seven titles that Petty first set in 1979 and Earnhardt tied in 1994.
If the latter occurs and Johnson does set a new record, Petty said he won't feel any personal disappointment. The three drivers competed in different eras, so he doesn't believe the feats are comparable.
"All I can say it, Earnhardt did his thing in his time against his competition, I did mine in my time against my competition, and he's doing his against his competition. And we didn't compete with one another. In other words, he wasn't there to race against Richard Petty or Earnhardt, and we didn't have to race against Jimmie Johnson, either. You can't compare it. it's not apples and apples. It's apples and oranges," Petty said.
"He didn't compete against me. I did my stuff in the '70s and stuff, and he's doing his stuff in the (2010s). There's no comparison in that deal. It's like taking someone from the Olympics in the year 1900 and competing them against somebody from the year 2000. Everything has transferred so much. Everybody's in better shape, the whole deal. And they blow that record away, just because of time. I guess records are made to be broken, and about every record that's been put up there has been broken or will be broken."
Petty said he doesn't really know Johnson personally, but that the current five-time champion is "loaded with talent." And he sees a clear parallel between Johnson and himself.
"I look at Jimmie sort of how I look back at Richard Petty -- without the equipment, then he's just another driver," he said. "So it's the combination that helps make him and put him out there. Without a super good car and stuff, there wouldn't have been a Richard Petty. Again, it's a combination. But Jimmie is pretty good, pretty cool about handling circumstances. Although most of the time he's handling them from the front, when he gets in the back he's conscious of what's going on and can race with people without getting over aggressive. He knows his ability, and knows the ability of his car. So if he's having trouble or if he has a fifth-place car, he settles for fifth."
Like Johnson, Petty heard plenty of grumbling in his time about how his success was all a product of his crew chief or his car. And like Johnson, the hardware speaks for itself.
"I could care less," Petty said. "All the people in the history of NASCAR and stuff, nobody's ever told you that Richard Petty was a good driver, or the best driver. All I wanted to be remembered for is, I won more than anybody else. As far as I'm concerned, whether I could drive or not didn't make any difference."