Is Jimmie Johnson the greatest NASCAR driver of all time?
NASCAR Race Hub’s Matt Clark sat down with fellow NASCAR on FOX/SPEED analyst Kyle Petty to talk about the many topics currently shaping the sport’s landscape.
Among the topics, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Considering his father, ‘The King’ Richard Petty, and what he accomplished, Kyle might be one of the more unique voices to talk about Johnson’s eventual place in history.
Richard Petty, a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class, captured seven championships, earned 200 victories and won seven Daytona 500 titles – numbers that made him a legend. Johnson, 37, is starting to amass heady numbers himself with five championships, two Daytona 500 victories and 63 victories already to his name.
Here is what Kyle Petty had to say about Johnson during this evening’s edition of NASCAR Race Hub on FOX Sports SPEED;
Matt Clark: How was it, growing up, in the shadows, dealing with that (constantly being compared to his father (Richard)? Or were you just a regular guy working for him?
Kyle Petty: If I could bring back my grandfather (Lee) and (son) Adam, and you could line us all four up, we’re all four, totally different people. Totally different personalities, approached things different, everything different. There’s only one Lee Petty and there’s only one Richard Petty, there’s only one Kyle Petty. There’s only one Adam and that’s the way it is. You didn’t measure yourself against them.
Clark: So there’s no desire or competitive… to measure up? When did that realization hit you that I’m not going to be him? I’m going to be me.
Petty: Probably when I first started. He (Richard) made it look, and if you go back… just like Jimmie (Johnson) does. He made it look so easy - so easy - that we would just go to the race track, come home with a trophy in the back of the car. No big deal.
Clark: That’s the way it was…
Petty: That’s just normal, man.
Petty: We would go to the race track and we had a ’72 (Chrysler) Imperial. We would go to the race track and it was myself, my sister Sharon and my sister Lisa. When we would come back from the race track a lot of the time, it would be myself, the trophy… and my sister Sharon and Lisa would have to sit up in the tray of the back window because we didn’t have vans and stuff. He made it look so easy. Once I started racing, I started thinking, ‘Oh, this (isn’t) as easy as he made it look.’ There are guys that come along in every sport that are just so far ahead of everybody else.
Clark: Is Jimmie Johnson that?
Petty: That’s Jimmie.
Clark: Why do people consider him, or don’t consider him, a powerhouse?
Petty: He may be the most underrated driver, ever. Now, on the other side of that coin when you flip it over, he’s arguably the greatest driver ever, when you look at it. I don’t know why, I think when you go back in the history of the sport, and when you look at those early years, it was all about the driver. When you talk Richard Petty, you just talk Richard Petty. When you talk Dale Earnhardt, Sr., you just talk Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Nobody mentions Jimmie, without mentioning (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) or (car owner) (Rick) Hendrick.
Clark: I think that’s, I don’t want to say Jimmie’s fault, but it’s a good characteristic. He’s a blue-collar guy that bought into the team concept and said, ‘Hey, my team, my crew chief, the owner, it’s all of us.’
Petty: He’s preached the team concept so much, and people bought it from him so much, that now he can’t escape that. We’ll always think about Jimmie as, ‘Jimmie and Chad and oh yeah, Hendrick, was a powerhouse during that time.’ That’s why he’s won so many races.
No. He drives the wheels off that thing. That’s why he wins the races.
Clark: It will be 20 or 30 years before people sit back and see what he did was amazing.
Petty: Yeah. I can’t believe that Jimmie Johnson’s five championships in a row was not a bigger deal in the sports world than what it was.