HOMESTEAD, Fla. —
There’s also an argument that Johnson’s titles stem from the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format, which debuted in 2004 as a 10-race playoff. It replaced the decades-old system of crowning a champion based on an entire season, and Johnson reeled off five consecutive titles beginning with Year 3 of the Chase.
Indeed, under the old scoring system, Johnson would not have won titles in 2007, 2008 or 2010.
But that’s not his problem. He raced under the rules at the time, on the same playing field as everyone else on the track — the same as Petty did during his heyday, and Earnhardt during his time.
As far as Petty is concerned, the debate is pointless.
“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. 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.”
Petty is right, it is very difficult to compare. But Johnson has very much earned the right to be part of the conversation by winning his six titles faster than Petty and Earnhardt, by becoming the youngest driver at 38 to reach the mark, and by winning 30 more races (he has 66 total Cup wins) than any other driver in the last 11 years.
“I don’t think he wants to try to prove it to anybody else, he just wants to prove it to himself,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “I’ve never seen anyone that works any harder and is any more committed to his physical conditioning, from the way he eats at certain times of the year, when he gets into the Chase, the way he works out.