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Richard Petty bothered by downsizing of role at team since Jimmie Johnson’s arrival

Jimmie Johnson speaks with Marty Snider about this career, why he's competing at the Daytona 500, and explains what he's focused on once he gets behind the wheel of his car.

Richard Petty concedes he’s been miffed at the downsizing of his role at the Cup team that bore his name before Jimmie Johnson became a minority owner last year.

Petty GMS Racing was renamed Legacy Motor Club for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, and “The King” has no ownership stake in the organization that includes the No. 43 he made famous. He sold his shares to Maury Gallagher in a deal before last season.

The seven-time Cup series champion remains in a “chief ambassador” role with Legacy Motor Club, but Petty, 85, explained (during a media availability Saturday morning at Daytona International Speedway) that Johnson and his management team are in charge of all major decisions.

“Yes, it does,” Petty replied with a laugh when asked if that bothered him. “Because I’ve done things my way, which hasn’t been too good lately, but as time progresses, things change in the world. Then it probably was time for a change.

“Jimmie’s looking not necessarily at what’s going to happen this year, but he’s trying to lay a foundation for four or five years where he’s still young enough that he’s going to be around for a long, long time.”

In an interview Saturday afternoon with Dan Gelston of the Associated Press, Johnson said he was “disappointed to hear and read through the press that his feelings were bruised because he’s not expressed them to me, for starters. But 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.”

The Petty name has been a part of NASCAR’s premier series virtually since its 1949 inception until this year. Petty Enterprises was founded by Richard’s father, Lee, and it morphed into Richard Petty Motorsports (in 2009) and then Petty GMS in a merger with GMS Racing last year.

But Petty said the team structure has been “kind of confusing from my standpoint” since Petty GMS was restructured into Legacy Motor Club.

“Wherever we went, I had my own little crowd that pretty much ran the show,” Petty said. “When we got with GMS, we had to blend with them. When Jimmie comes in, his crowd doesn’t take over the racing part, they take over the front office with sponsorships, appearances, and all that stuff. Jimmie’s crowd is controlling that.

“That’s something I’ve never had to put up with, I guess. I still do my own thing. But then I do a lot for our new team.”

Petty said his new role has “been strange to me” in part because he and Johnson agree on the team’s direction only “about 50 percent” of the time -- and “The King” still is adjusting to no longer having the final say.

“Most of the time, I run the majority of the show,” Petty said. “Jimmie brought all his people in, and his way of running things (and) my way of running things, are probably a little bit different, OK?”

Johnson, 47, returned to NASCAR as a part-time driver and team owner after racing in the NTT IndyCar Series the past two seasons.

After locking in a spot via qualifying Wednesday, his start in Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be Johnson’s first NASCAR race since the 2020 Cup season finale in Phoenix. He is planning more Cup starts this season (but only the Chicago street race has been confirmed beyond Daytona).

“I think Jimmie’s really looking to the future,” Petty said. “Basically, he’ll wind up running the show in four to five years. He’ll probably be the majority owner of our operation in four to five years. I know that they’re looking at things completely differently.

“Jimmie’s very observant. 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.”

Legacy Motor Club fields Chevrolets in full-season rides for Erik Jones and rookie Noah Gragson. Petty said he understood why the team rebranded.

“That was one of the operations that when Jimmie come in, it was going to be hard to be ‘Petty Johnson GMS,’ ” Petty said. “Here again, Jimmie’s thinking further ahead with this group, and he come up with a new name.

“So we got him with seven championships, me with seven championships, (Hall of Fame crew chief) Dale Inman with eight championships. So a pretty legendary operation from the top up or the top down. That’s the reason they wanted a new team. They wanted to do stuff a little bit different, and that’s the reason they come up with (the name).”

Johnson was busy with media obligations after final Daytona 500 practice Saturday and said he had yet to talk with “The King.” But Johnson planned to discuss Petty’s displeasure in a future conversation between two of the three seven-time champions in NASCAR history (along with the late Dale Earnhardt).

“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 past NASCAR champions and Daytona 500 winners who will serve as grand marshals for Sunday’s race.