Would NASCAR let a Californian break Petty & Earnhardt record?

Breaking a tie of 7 titles he holds with Petty and Earnhardt will bring tears to the aging NASCAR fanbase
Breaking a tie of 7 titles he holds with Petty and Earnhardt will bring tears to the aging NASCAR fanbase

Even if he is a little bland, Jimmie Johnson is such a prolific stock-car driver that you’d think more people would be pulling for him lately, especially since he has a chance to make history this fall by becoming NASCAR’s first eight-time champion. Apparently, that is not the case.

Johnson is tied for the most titles with two icons: Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., both the sons of racers from North Carolina, the cradle of stock-car racing. Johnson, 42, is from El Cajon, Calif., outside San Diego, and he started out racing motorcycles, and then off-road cars.

Petty, who turned 80 in July, won his seven titles between 1964 and 1979. Earnhardt, who was killed in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, won seven titles between 1980 and 1994. Johnson won his first title in 2006 and his seventh last year — getting to the milestone even faster than the other two.

Although his crafty crew chief, Chad Knaus, has gotten into trouble for bending the rules occasionally, Johnson has been a responsible champion. He is one of a rapidly diminishing group of drivers who carry only one main sponsor on a car during a race.

His sponsor is Lowe’s, the home-improvement chain. Earlier this week, he got some supplies from a local Lowe’s in South Florida and donated them to the Hurricane Irma relief effort. He visited a 97-year-old woman and helped install a generator and cut up fallen trees.

It was a pretty much a photo op, but Johnson was, as always, smooth, friendly and polite. Still, it is a good bet that Johnson will get more boos during pre-race driver introductions through the season than anyone except Rowdy Kyle Busch, who likes being NASCAR’s villain.

Fans have long thought Johnson wins too much. Now, he could shatter a record that he holds with two legends, the King and the Intimidator. Johnson has no cute nickname, and he is from Southern California to boot. More from Dave Caldwell/Forbes

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