The King in sixth? There needs to be a recount
The man has 200 wins and seven Cup titles. He's one of the most beloved figures in American sports. Ryan McGee wants to know: How the heck did Richard Petty come in sixth?
Updated: May 22, 2008, 1:52 PM ETBy Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine
Chris Gardner/US PresswireRichard Petty won seven championships and 200 races, winning at least two races a season from 1960 to 1979.I was just glancing over our ESPN.com Top 25 Drivers of All Time list, and, going from the bottom up, everything seemed pretty normal. Granted, Don Garlits being ranked behind Shirley Muldowney was a little odd, and I'm not sure where Bobby Allison, Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney went (I had them all on my ballot). But, hey, these things happen, right? No harm, no foul.
Then, I got to No. 6 Richard Petty?
The guy with 200 wins?
The one with the big hat and sunglasses?
What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is going on here?! Did I miss something? Did the end of the Bible arrive, and I just haven't found out yet? Am I on "Punk'd"? How can someone who had the kind of effect Richard Petty had on his sport -- on American sports -- be ranked outside the top five? Let's go over the résumé, shall we? Each of the following is a NASCAR record:
- 200 career wins (David Pearson is second with 105)
- 126 poles (Pearson, 112)
- 61 wins from the pole (Pearson, 37)
- 7 Cup championships (tied with Dale Earnhardt)
- 7 Daytona 500 wins (Cale Yarborough, 4)
- 1,185 starts (Ricky Rudd, 906)
Fair enough, but before you throw out his numbers like he is Charlie Hough, let's take a look at what kind of quality he included with his quantity. Petty won at least two races per season from 1960 to 1979 and at least one pole every year between '60 and '77. Between '62 and '77 -- a span of more than 600 starts -- his average finish was fifth! His average finish for his entire 35-year career was 11.3, including the final eight winless years.If nothing else, his longevity adds to the impressiveness of his numbers. He raced against three generations of superstars -- from Curtis Turner and Fireball Roberts to Darrell Waltrip and Earnhardt. And he beat them all."The schedule was so much different back then," said Jeff Gordon, who ranks 10th on the ESPN.com list and sixth on NASCAR's all-time wins list. "They ran 50 races a season and raced two or three times a week. Maybe people think that Richard got some cheap ones in there somewhere."Petty's greatest season -- perhaps the greatest season ever compiled by any driver in any series -- came in 1967, when he won 27 races, including 10 in a row, and 18 poles. That year, he started 48 of the season's 49 races (and, oh, by the way, posted an average finish of 2.4).But the legend of The King was galvanized after NASCAR's "modern era" began in 1972 and the schedule was slashed to a 30-ish calendar. Four of his seven Cup titles and 56 of his wins came against the same measuring stick we still employ today. And don't even get me started on the Chase. It's the only NASCAR points system in which Petty didn't win a championship. Between 1971 and '75, NASCAR employed three scoring systems -- and The King won Cups in all three."For the record, I'm not one of those people that question any of his records," Gordon quickly added. "To me, you still have to get behind the wheel and drive that car. Clearly, he did that."Thanks for the support, Jeff. At least we gave you a vote."I know a lot of people were always jealous of Richard," said Pearson, Petty's archrival. "Because they thought maybe he had an unfair advantage all those years with so much money coming from Chrysler." I guess some dullards think Pearson's famous No. 21 ride wasn't being supported by Ford-Mercury. Or that Hendrick Motorsports gets no help from Chevy, or Roush Fenway never receives a phone call from Ford, or Joe Gibbs Racing never has had a conversation with the folks at Toyota. And perhaps Earnhardt's GM Goodwrench Chevy never received any technical support from, oh, I dunno GM?"Trust me," Pearson said with a wink. "If you're winning, you're getting support from someone."So, what's left? Could it be that Petty's relationship with the media kept him from compiling enough support to crack the ESPN.com top five? Is he the Jim Rice of NASCAR, doomed to pay the price for his contentious ways with sportswriters and sports fans?
RacingOne/Getty ImagesRichard Petty has a glamour shot taken before the 1971 Daytona 500. That race was one of seven 500s in which he took home the trophy.
-- Mario Andretti
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TOP 25 DRIVERS OF ALL TIME
Top 25 Video
The Top 25• Monday
25. Steve Kinser
24. Nigel Mansell
23. Don Garlits
22. Niki Lauda
21. Shirley Muldowney
20. Darrell Waltrip
19. Emerson Fittipaldi
18. Alain Prost
17. Bobby Unser
16. Tony Stewart
15. Al Unser
14. Cale Yarborough
13. Jackie Stewart
12. John Force
11. Rick Mears
10. Jeff Gordon
9. Juan Manuel Fangio
8. Jim Clark
7. David Pearson
6. Richard Petty
5. Ayrton Senna
4. Michael Schumacher
3. Dale Earnhardt
2. Mario Andretti
1. A.J. Foyt
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Page 2: Hollywood's big wheels
McGee: The King is sixth? We need a recount!
Blount: Foyt did it all
Blount: The Top 25 in 2025
Newton: Smoke has his say, and he says A.J.
Newton: Allison seems like a big omission
Knutson: The F1 drivers; who made it, who didn't
Oreovicz: The Indy contingent
Stephens: The NHRA represents
SportsNation Ranker: Give us your list
The Voters• Kenny Bernstein -- Six-time NHRA champion with four Funny Car titles and two Top Fuel titles.
• Terry Blount -- ESPN.com motorsports writer.
• Tim Brewer -- ESPN NASCAR commentator and two-time Cup championship crew chief.
• K. Lee Davis -- ESPN.com motorsports editor.
• Mike Dunn -- ESPN analyst for NHRA events and one of only four drivers with 10 or more career victories in Top Fuel and Funny Car.
• Ray Evernham -- ESPN NASCAR analyst and crew chief for three of Jeff Gordon's four Cup championships.
• A.J. Foyt -- Four-time Indy 500 winner.
• Scott Goodyear -- ESPN IndyCar analyst, former IndyCar racer and member of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame.
• Jeff Gordon -- Four-time Cup champion in NASCAR.
• Mike Harris -- Long-time auto racing writer for the Associated Press.
• Dale Jarrett -- ESPN NASCAR analyst and 1999 Cup champion.
• Dan Knutson -- Formula One writer for ESPN.com.
• Ryan McGee -- Motorsports writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com.
• Juan Pablo Montoya -- Current Cup driver, 1999 CART champion, 2000 Indy 500 winner and former Formula One driver.
• John Oreovicz -- American open-wheel racing writer for ESPN.com.
• Richard Petty -- Seven-time Cup champion in NASCAR.
• Marty Reid -- ESPN motorsports broadcaster.
• Tony Stewart -- Two-time Cup champion in NASCAR and 1997 IRL champion.
• Rusty Wallace -- ESPN NASCAR analyst and 1989 Cup champion.