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Petty, Earnhardt are losing ground as reigning king remains humble

  • Jimmie Johnson wipes away sweat as his Lowes Chevrolet car is fine tuned during the afternoon practice, Friday June 21, 2013 for the 25th annual Toyota/ Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

SONOMA — Michael Waltrip, NASCAR team owner and driver for over 28 years, was going on and on about how uniquely great a driver Jimmie Johnson is. "He passes cars when others can't," Waltrip was saying, and no one has dominated the sport the way Johnson has now and, well, it was time to interrupt.

"You're talking about Babe Ruth here, aren't you?" I asked.

The greatest? The best of the best? Better than Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty? Waltrip nodded and, more importantly, he didn't say, "That was a stupid question." Once that would have been an stupid, outrageous and insulting proposition, that anyone could approach the legend and mystique of Petty and Earnhardt. Now? It would be stupid, outrageous and insulting not to ask that question.

Some NASCAR legends already have answered. At one time or another Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart all have answered in the affirmative. Yes, of course, the prudent, intelligent and mature approach would be to wait until Johnson is through racing. So he could be judged on his entire body of work. After all, history and perspective need time to simmer. I get it.


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