The King’s praise for Johnson

History

Richard Petty is known as the King of NASCAR, and rightfully so. Over 25 years between 1960-84 Petty won 200 NASCAR races and seven championships. He started racing in 1958 and retired at end of ’92 after an epic career. Today, Richard Petty Motorsports continues to race, fielding four cars in 2009 and again in 2010 for Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson. Nobody is more qualified than the King to assess Jimmie Johnson’s unprecedented achievement of winning four consecutive NASCAR championships.

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“I look at Jimmie the same as I look at Jeff Gordon or Darrell Waltrip or Cale Yarborough,” says Petty. “He’s doing his thing in his time. He’s got everything working. They’ve got a tremendous team and a driver’s no better than his team. He can take that team to the next level if he’s pushing them and the team is really good. The combination they have right now is sorta like the (NFL’s) New England Patriots were for four or five years, or Pittsburgh or Green Bay before that. I heard somebody say all the planets are lined up for Jimmie. It’s his time. He is the man of the hour.”

There’s plenty of debate criticising NASCAR’s 10-race ‘Chase for the Cup’ play-off format in comparison to the old season-long championship run over 30 or more races. What does Petty think about the Chase? “It’s kinda like apples and oranges,” says ‘The King’. “It’s hard to compare them. It is what it is today. I understand why NASCAR did it from a PR standpoint. It was really a smart move to get a little bit more publicity.

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“It’s like the play-off concept. In football, baseball and basketball, everybody plays all year to get into the play-off and that’s the way NASCAR has decided to play its game. There’s no need to go back and compare. This is the way it is and that’s the way it was. You do your thing under those circumstances.”

Petty says there wasn’t much emphasis on the championship in his heyday. “It used to be that we didn’t even worry about the points,” he says. “The points were not in our vocabulary. We thought win races, win races. That was our vocabulary. The first time we thought about the points was when it got down to October or November. The championship didn’t mean near as much as it does now. I think we won championships and got a $2000 bonus or something. It wasn’t any big deal.

“I can understand these guys now because there’s so much money on the championship. You go to Daytona for the first race and everybody’s worried about the points. Today, people look at the individual races as a way to get to the point standings. The mentality of the way people race now is completely different.”

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Jimmie Johnson is fast becoming the most accomplished NASCAR driver of his generation but he’s got a long way to go to match the King, who’s still there in the thick of the action, almost always available to sign an autograph or pose for a photo. The man is a life lesson for everyone in the sport.

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