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Neither Petty nor Earnhardt did it in an eight-year span. And should Johnson win the title, at 38 he would be four years younger than Earnhardt was when he won his sixth.

But outside of NASCAR, his numbers rank among other recent greats.

_Roger Federer won 16 of 27 Grand Slams from 2003-10.

_Michael Phelps won 18 gold medals in three Olympics from 2004 to 2012.

_Tiger Woods won four consecutive majors in 2000 and 2001, and seven overall from 1999-2002.

Rick Hendrick plucked the relatively unknown Johnson out of the Nationwide Series in late 2001 to be the driver of his new fourth car. He has been fighting for years to get Johnson more respect.

“I don’t think Jimmie’s gotten the real credit he deserves for the talent that he has, and for the dedication that he has given to this sport,” the team owner said. “He’s a guy that works out, eats, and is a student of looking at track data, tire data. He lives and breathes being a perfectionist. I think Jimmie’s as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Petty, NASCAR’s all-time wins leader with 200, believes it impossible to rank the greatest drivers. Petty won his last championship the year before Earnhardt’s first full Cup season, and Johnson made his Cup debut eight months after Earnhardt’s fatal accident.

“It’s like taking somebody from the Olympics in the year 1900 and comparing them to somebody in the year 2000. Everything has (changed) so much, everybody is in better shape,” said Petty, who does see immense talent in Johnson.

Jimmie is pretty good and pretty cool about handling different circumstances. Although most of the time he’s handling it from the front, even when he gets in the back he’s very conscious of what’s going on and can race with people without getting overaggressive,” Petty said.

“He knows his ability and he knows the ability of his car, so if he’s having trouble or he’s running and he’s a fifth-place car, then he settles for fifth place and goes on down the road.”

NASCAR President Mike Helton said it’s too early to define Johnson, who could rewrite almost every category in the record books before he’s done. Although Petty’s 200 wins is probably out of reach, there’s no indication he won’t win many more championships in the coming years.

Yet he doesn’t get the credit outside his sport or from ardent fans of NASCAR who are simply tired of the domination.

“I think the history books are more kind to you than current moments are,” Helton said. “But nobody can dispute the talent that he’s got.”

McNabb, who in 2010 was benched by the Washington Redskins because coach Mike Shanahan said the quarterback lacked “the cardiovascular endurance that it takes to run a two-minute” offense, can’t be swayed.

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