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King reluctant to share NASCAR title throne with Jimmie Johnson

By Dan Gelston Associated Press

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 2006-2010 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 season-long 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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