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The King lauds JJ's quest

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Richard Petty reckons only falling into a Florida sinkhole could stop Jimmie Johnson from winning a sixth Sprint Cup championship, and beyond that, "he's liable to go to eight to 10" titles.

Petty, 76, NASCAR's all-time winningest driver with 200 race victories, is tied with the late Dale Earnhardt for most season championships: seven.

Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by 28 points and Kevin Harvick by 34 going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN), and must finish only 23rd or better to clinch the title regardless of what Kenseth and Harvick do.

Asked to pick who'll leave here as champion, Petty said, "I don't even know that there's a pick. Is there?"

Well, Johnson could wreck or have a mechanical failure.

"Na, not likely," Petty said. "I think he's got all the stars lined up. It's showed most of the year. It's another one of his years.

"What do they have down here, these sinkholes? One of these sinkholes taking care of him is about the only thing that's going to take care of him."

In the title tally, "Right now it's seven and seven," Petty said of his and Earnhardt's championships. "It'll be seven, seven, seven, and he's liable to go eight to 10.

"The way the situation is now -- what they've got together [on Johnson's No. 48 team] and what the competition's got together -- if that doesn't change, if somebody doesn't get better or worse, it's going to continue to be the same thing," Petty said of Johnson's dominance.

Truly capable of winning eight? "Yeah," Petty said firmly. They've shown that in the past. Look back at how long Petty Enterprises lasted and won championships and won races [10 championships between Richard and father Lee, and 254 wins between the two].

"Right now, and from the beginning of [NASCAR] racing, the Hendrick operation is the only one that's done that good and lasted that long to compete with Petty Enterprises," Petty said. Hendrick Motorsports has 10 championships: five by Johnson, four by Jeff Gordon and one by Terry Labonte.

As for Johnson, "He's loaded with talent, OK?" Petty said. "But I look at Jimmie sort of like I look back at Richard Petty. Without the equipment, then he's just another driver. It's the combination that helps make him and put him up there.

"Because without a supergood car and stuff, there wouldn't have been a Richard Petty.

"Jimmie is pretty cool at handling different circumstances -- although most of the time, he's handling it from the front," Petty continued. "Even when he gets in the back, he's very conscious of what's going on and can race with people without getting overaggressive. He knows his ability, and he knows the ability of his car."

Petty said he won't be disappointed at all if Johnson surpasses his and Earnhardt's record.

"All I can say is Earnhardt done his thing in his time against his competition, I did mine against my competition and he's doing his against his competition," Petty continued. "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. It's not apples and apples. It's apples and oranges."

Comparing Petty's era to Johnson's is "like taking somebody from the Olympics in 1900 and having them compete against somebody from 2000," Petty said. "Everything has changed so much -- everybody's in better shape and the whole deal. They blow records away because of time.

"I guess records are made to be broken, and about every record that has ever been put up there has been broken or will be broken."

Including Petty's. Just a matter of time and JJ, he reckons.

One treasured record is likely his forever: the 200 wins.

"All I want to be remembered as is I won more than anybody else. As far as I'm concerned, whether I could drive or not didn't make any difference."