COMMENTARY: Is there any doubt that Jimmie Johnson is one of the top drivers the sport of auto racing has ever seen? He has accomplished so much in such a short period of time and still has many years ahead of him. The question is though is he better than “The King” Richard Petty?
In thirteen seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, Jimmie Johnson has: five championships, 62 wins, 252 top tens and 30 poles. Richard Petty has seven championships, 200 wins and 712 top tens.
One of the reasons why Jimmie Johnson could be considered the greatest is because Jimmie is racing in what is no doubt the most competitive time in NASCAR. When Richard Petty was racing there were only about six or seven competitive guys each week. Also, Richard Petty was racing when there were sometimes more than forty races in one season. In the 1964 season there were sixty-two races in one season! The King’s career also spanned thirty-fives years even though his last win came in 1984 and he retired in 1992.
When Richard Petty was racing there was no points playoffs as well.
With Jimmie Johnson it is harder to win the championship because if you wreck in the first of the Chase for the Sprint Cup races you are going to have a hard time catching up to win the championship. With Petty once he took control of the points lead there was never any reset of points so he could just take the championship.
The racing has been more competitive in the last few years than it ever has been. Thus making it harder win and that is not stopping Jimmie Johnson at all. In the 1975 NASCAR Winston (Now Sprint) Cup Series there were eight different winners and during the 2011 season there were 18. That is a big jump in number of winners. That’s because back in the day there were only about six-seven dominant cars. Anyone else was really a long shot to win. Today there are a solid 20 cars that are capable of winning. With more cars capable of winning the harder it is for one driver to dominant.
So maybe Jimmie Johnson is the greatest NASCAR driver of all time. If he keeps doing what he does he is certainly going to pass David Pearson for 2nd all time on the most wins list. Pearson has 105 and Jimmie has 65 but Jimmie is only 37 years old. So Jimmie has time to pass Pearson but will he ever catch Richard Petty? Probably not just because there are less races a season now than when Petty raced. It is going to be interesting to see what Jimmie Johnson is going to do in the next 10 years. My guess is we are going to see a lot of history being made.