King re­luc­tant to share NASCAR ti­tle throne with John­son

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Dan Gelston

HOMESTEAD, FLA. >> Richard Petty and Jim­mie John­son could soon a share a spot in NASCAR’s cham­pi­onship record book.

The rac­ing greats don’t share much of a friend­ship.

Petty, NASCAR’s ca­reer leader with 200 wins, has yet to speak to John­son since the Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports star earned a spot in the sea­son fi­nale with a cham­pi­onship berth on the line. John­son would match Petty and Dale Earn­hardt with seven Cup cham­pi­onships should be best Carl Ed­wards, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch in Sunday’s race at Homestead-Mi­ami Speed­way.

The King knew the year would come when he would have to share his cham­pi­onship throne.

Petty said he wasn’t openly root­ing for a driver he barely knows to match his cham­pi­onship mark.

“I ain’t got a dog in this fight, you know what I mean,” Petty said Satur­day. “Prob­a­bly from the PR stand­point, it would be great if he could win it. Be­cause then ev­ery time they say some­thing about him, they’re go­ing to say some­thing about me and Earn­hardt.”

Petty said he doesn’t have much of a re­la­tion­ship with John­son and they haven’t talked to each other since the Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports star clinched his cham­pi­onship spot with a win at Martinsville.

“Jim­mie is just another one out there,” Petty said in­side his mo­torhome. “We’ve never re­ally so­cial­ized at all. I’ve been at a bunch of meet­ings and places with him. Prob­a­bly all we’ve ever done is say hello to each other.”

John­son made his Sprint Cup de­but in 2001 and won cham­pi­onships from 20062010 and a sixth in 2013. Earn­hardt won cham­pi­onships in 1980 and went back-to-back in 1986-1987, 1990-1991 and 1993-1994. Petty’s cham­pi­onships came in 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1979.

“I was the first one to climb the moun­tain,” Petty said.

Petty and Earn­hardt won their cham­pi­onships when NASCAR de­cided a cham­pion un­der a sea­son­long points sys­tem. John­son won his in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint cham­pi­onship play­off era. John­son tries for No. 7 in the third sea­son of the Chase elim­i­na­tion for­mat.

“There’s no way to com­pare with what I’ve done, or what Earn­hardt’s done or what Jim­mie’s do­ing against each other,” Petty said.

Petty, whose 27 vic­to­ries in 1967 still stand as a sin­gle-sea­son record, has re­mained a fix­ture in NASCAR with his own­er­ship stake in Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports. He turns 80 next year and re­mains a fa­mil­iar sight at race­tracks in feath­ered cow­boy hats, dark glasses and cow­boy boots.

“It’s been good PR for me be­cause this time last year, no one said, ‘Richard Petty won seven cham­pi­onships,”’ he said. “We wouldn’t even be men­tioned. It’s brought us back into the fore­front. A lot of the fans, old fans, new fans, never re­ally think about that part. Now, they’ve brought it into fo­cus.”

John­son had his eye on seven since he won his sixth cham­pi­onship in 2013. Only 41, a mo­ti­vated John­son has more shots at seven, eight, even more ti­tles.

“It would be a mas­sive honor to join Petty and Earn­hardt,” he said.

Petty will con­grat­u­late John­son af­ter the race should he tie the record. Maybe then, the seven-time champs will have more of a chance to catch up.

“I’ve been busy an­swer­ing ques­tions about Jim­mie,” Petty said, “so I haven’t had a chance to talk with him.”

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