The King can see what’s happening.
Richard Petty’s record seven championships in NASCAR, the record he shares with Dale Earnhardt, are under attack.
Jimmie Johnson is coming for them.
Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick Motorsports, is a mere formality away from championship No. 6. He will get it Sunday by finishing 23rd or better, not counting lap bonuses, at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
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It would take a shocking crash or equipment malfunction to keep Johnson from doing at least that much.
After that, how far away can No. 7 be?
And then No. 8?
“Yeah,” Petty said simply, asked if he thought Johnson would get to eight. “They’ve shown that in the past.”
Johnson is the closest thing Sprint Cup racing has seen to the days of Petty and Earnhardt. Sunday’s title would be six in eight years for the 38-year-old Johnson, a Californian who grew up racing dirt bikes.
Petty won his seven championships over the course of 16 seasons. There were three runner-ups.
Earnhardt won his seven in 15 seasons, with one runner-up.
Petty won his titles from the mid-’60s through the ’70s.
Earnhardt from the ’80s to mid-’90s.
For Petty, those facts do the talking.
“All I can say is Earnhardt did his thing in his time against his competition. I did mine against my competition. And he’s doing his thing against his competition,” Petty said. “We didn’t compete with each other.
“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’s not apples and apples. It’s apples and oranges.”
Every champion needs a good garage, and Johnson has that. Like Earnhardt before him. And Petty before him.
“If you look back and look at how long Petty Enterprises lasted and won championships and won races for a lot of years, right now and from the beginning of racing, 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,” Petty said.
Petty was 38 when he won his last championship. Earnhardt was 43.
Johnson turned 38 in September.
Petty raced until age 55. Earnhardt was 50 when he died at Daytona in 2001. Both were competitive deep into their 40s.
Johnson could walk into his 40s with a share of the record, or as the new stock-car king already.
Who knows after that?
“I’ve really tried hard not to go down that road and think about those things,” Johnson said. “I think it would be a mistake. I’m going to focus on Sunday’s race, do my best job then. What happens after that, we’ll all find out.”
Just give it time.