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King Without A Crown: Richard Petty Airs His Mixed Feelings As Jimmie Johnson Puts Stamp On NASCAR Team
Richard Petty's been displaced by fellow seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson at the company he founded, creating some friction.
As the old saying goes, too many chefs in the kitchen spoil the soup. What about when two of those chefs are the only living seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champions? Well, you run the risk of leaving someone's feelings hurt.
Ever since Jimmie Johnson bought a major stake in Richard Petty’s GMS Racing and helped to swiftly rebrand the company in November to Legacy Motor Club, the King of NASCAR has watched futilely as his power within the enterprise he founded has been slowly stripped away, starting with Johnson’s early decision to remove the Petty name from the company — a name that’s been synonymous with the sport since 1949. Now relegated to being a company ambassador, the 85-year-old isn’t shying away from talking about his take on the change.
“It’s been strange to me,” Petty explained to The Associated Press on Saturday ahead of the Daytona 500. “Most of the time, I ran the majority of the show. Jimmie brought all his people in. His way of running things and my way of running things are probably a little bit different. We probably agree on about 50% of what it really comes down to.”
Allegiant Air Maury Gallagher purchased Richard Petty Motorsports from Petty in 2021 and kept the all-time Cup Series win leader (200) aboard as the face of the racing house. Johnson came aboard with an ownership stake last fall.
Though he revealed Johnson’s ascension in power bothers him, Petty admits that it “was probably time for a change” within the company structure, citing the difficulties the company has had in garnering any viable success.
Johnson articulated his “disappointment” with Petty publicly airing out their dirty laundry.
“He’s not expressed them to me, for starters,” Johnson told the AP. “Honestly, there are a lot of moving pieces to this. There are business decisions that are taking place between Mr. Gallagher and the Petty family before I ever arrived. Those are details that are just not my place to say.”
“But a lot of what Richard is speaking to is based on business decisions that he and his family have made, and they aren’t relative to my involvement,” continued Johnson.
One business decision in particular has been a tough pill for Petty to swallow.
“When Jimmie came in, it was going to be hard to be Johnson Petty GMS,” noted Petty. “Jimmie’s thinking further ahead with his crew and came up with a new name.”
Petty continues to be one of NASCAR’s most recognizable faces, bolstered by his signature style of cowboy hats, boots and dark glasses. Fans flock to his appearances, and Petty always makes time to sign autographs for supporters, but as he alludes, even that is potentially up in the air under Johnson’s control.
“They don’t take over the racing part; they take over the front office,” Petty said. “With sponsorships, appearances and all that stuff, Jimmie’s crowd is kind of controlling that. That’s something I never had to put up with, I guess.”
“Jimmie controls everything, basically,” he added. “You’re making postcards and stuff, he has to approve it. He approves everything. He’s a pretty busy man right now.”
Despite the company drama they’re embroiled in, Johnson says he’s always had nothing but respect for the legendary NASCAR icon.
“He’s always been so kind and wonderful to me,” Johnson said. “He’s the last person I fist-pumped before I rolled off pit lane and won my seventh championship.”
Though Johnson made the jump from NASCAR to IndyCar two years ago, the 47-year-old seven-time Cup Series champ recently made his NASCAR return to race in the Daytona 500 where he finished 31st.
Petty may be irked with how Johnson has taken the reins of the company, but he does credit Johnson with having a strong business acumen, noting that Superman’s connections with Gibson Guitars and Live Nation played a pivotal role in landing the '80s rock gods Guns N’ Roses on the hood of Erik Jones’ No. 43 Chevy. Noah Gragson serves as Legacy Motorsports' other full-time driver, while Johnson will only race in certain events.
Still, for Petty, the company’s just never going to be the same as it was with him at the helm.
“He’s basically going to wind up running the show in four or five years completely,” continued Petty. “He’ll probably be the majority owner or the owner of our operation. They’re looking at things completely differently.”
“He’s still young enough where he's going to be around a long, long time.”