After Jimmie Johnson’s record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, the question is who is the sport’s greatest driver – Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt or Johnson?
Of course that is if you go solely by championships and each won seven. There will be those who bring up David Pearson’s name. Pearson won three titles in four seasons he ran nearly the full schedule. Many years, he ran no more than two-thirds of a season.
Naturally, the focus is on Johnson, Petty and Earnhardt because of their titles.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon provides his answer this way:
“I was driving the same race cars for the same team as Jimmie and getting beat by Jimmie,’’ Gordon said after Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “To me, he’s the best I’ve ever seen. I saw Earnhardt do some extraordinary things. I never got to race against Richard in his prime.
“I got to see Dale do some amazing things. To me, I feel like our cars and our teams, we could compete with (Earnhardt) and beat him at certain tracks. On the superspeedways, I felt like he was unstoppable, but Jimmie, he’s just a complete package, the team is a complete package. They’re the best I’ve ever seen.’’
Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of a seven-time champ, viewed the issue this way:
“It’s pretty impressive. I don’t know if we’ll ever see anybody win seven because it just gets harder. The competition is so tough and fate is such a big role-player in the way the format is, but Jimmie did it. The circumstances are so challenging for him compared to Richard and my father. There were challenges for those guys as well, but this environment today is most competitive.’’
Earnhardt also made the point that had their careers overlapped more, the three would not have won so many titles.
“I’m impressed that (Johnson) won seven championships under the competition that he’s faced,’’ Earnhardt said. “He faced more competition than my dad did, more than Richard did.
“I think that if you put all three of them in any era, they all can counter each other. If dad races with Jimmie, Jimmie doesn’t win seven. If Jimmie races with dad, dad doesn’t win seven championships.
“I think talent-wise it’s impossible to measure one against the other. We ought to put them all on a pedestal with a few others up there like Cale (Yarborough) and David Pearson and guys like that. The most impressive thing, I think, is Jimmie can hang his hat on he did it the hard way.’’