It is always very tough to compare competitors from different eras in any sport. Things change over time in all sports. But comparisons are inevitable, and fans will always have those conversations wondering "who was better?"
Whether it is Babe Ruth vs. Hank Aaron vs. Barry Bonds or Wilt Chamberlain vs. Shaquille O'Neal, it is a difficult argument. Ruth played in an era where there were no teams east of the Mississippi, no night games and no minorities. How do you make a fair comparison between him and Bonds, who played in an era of performance-enhancing drugs, but also 30 teams, night games and many international stars?
NASCAR is no different.
Petty raced in an era when stock cars really were stock cars. Then by the time he was finished, it was more like the sport we have today where the cars were made in race shops in Charlotte instead of assembly lines in Detroit.
In Petty's day, the schedule was over 50 races. Some of those races were on dirt tracks. Even the Twin 125s at Daytona counted in the points. Most of the races were run on half-mile or shorter tracks.
Today, the Sprint Cup series is run on super-speedways 1.5 miles or longer nearly every week. Every race is on national TV. Every race is a major event. Demands on a driver's time is greater than ever before. In Petty's era, drivers could go home during the week and spend time with their families. Now, drivers spend midweek traveling to the next event which might be clear across the country or schmoozing sponsors.
But, we still like to compare. Petty, Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and David Pearson put together careers that put them in the "Greatest of All Time" conversation. So let's look at how Johnson stacks up to "The King."