DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Richard Petty might still reign as NASCAR’s King, but with Jimmie Johnson wresting control of Petty’s old race team, he is definitively not the boss.
Petty essentially has been stripped of power inside his former eponymous race team that rapidly rebranded and has been rebuilt since November. Johnson and Petty are the only living seven-time NASCAR champions — and that appears to be where the similarities end inside the Legacy Motor Club’s front office.
Petty, 85, said Saturday he has bruised feelings and little say in the direction of the race team since Johnson bought into the ownership group.
“It’s been strange to me,” Petty said. “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 percent of what it really comes down to.”
Ahead of the Daytona 500, an unfiltered Petty said he was irked by Johnson’s rise in power. “Yes, it does” bother him, he said.
Petty, though, conceded it was “probably time for a change,” because through several incarnations of his race team — the latest Petty GMS — his cars had never busted through the middle of the pack. GMS founder Maury Gallagher, chairman of Allegiant Air, purchased Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, and Petty, whose 200 Cup wins as a Hall of Fame driver are a record, served as the front man.
Johnson told The Associated Press he was “disappointed” that Petty publicly expressed his displeasure, adding: “Of course, we’ll have conversations.”
“He’s not expressed them to me, for starters,” Johnson said. “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.”
One of Johnson’s first decisions: Strip the Petty name that dates in NASCAR to 1949.
“When Jimmie came in, it was going to be hard to be Johnson Petty GMS,” Petty said. “Jimmie’s thinking further ahead with his crew and came up with a new name.”
Petty remains NASCAR’s most recognizable personality, wearing his feathered cowboy hats, dark glasses and cowboy boots. He has never stopped signing autographs, making personal appearances or glad-handing sponsors, though even those responsibilities seem more uncertain under Johnson’s reign.
“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.”
Petty did tip his hat to Johnson’s business acumen: Johnson’s connections with Gibson guitars and music industry relationships, including entertainment giant Live Nation, were instrumental in landing legendary rock band Guns N’ Roses on the hood of Erik Jones‘ No. 43 Chevrolet.
“He’s basically going to wind up running the show in four or five years completely,” Petty said. “He’ll probably be the majority owner or the owner of our operation. They’re looking at things completely differently.”
Even with their shared place in NASCAR history, the two drivers were never close before they forged a business relationship, but Johnson said he has always had respect for Petty.
“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.”
Petty and Johnson are among nine drivers who won a NASCAR championship and Daytona 500 set to serve as grand marshals for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Legacy M.C. also fields cars for Jones and Noah Gragson.
“Jimmie’s very observant. He takes on everything,” Petty said. “Jimmie controls everything, basically. You’re making postcards and stuff, he has to approve it. He approves everything. He’s a pretty busy man right now.”
That includes racing. Johnson, 47, returned to NASCAR after a two-year stint in IndyCar and proved he hadn’t lost anything in his first spins in NASCAR’s new car. He qualified on speed for the Daytona 500, flew with the Thunderbirds and topped the first speed chart at practice.
Johnson’s racing career, though, is winding down. He’s just getting started as team owner.
“He’s still young enough where he’s going to be around a long, long time,” Petty said.