DAYTONA BEACH — Jimmie Johnson doesn't understand.
The three-time defending Sprint Cup series champion begins his next title defense in seemingly prime position for what would be a record fourth in a row. But a recent media poll and talk-show banter predict a stumble, and that 2008 runnerup Carl Edwards will end the dynasty and win his first title.
Is the NASCAR community too attention deficient to sit through history-making? It's a bit strong to suggest Johnson, 33, is irked, but he admits he's mystified.
"Especially the first few times I heard it," he said. "When Lance Armstrong won three (Tours de France) in a row, he came in as the favorite for the fourth. I was like, 'Wait a second. Shouldn't I be the favorite?'
"There's a lot of racing between now and then, and certainly there are teams that showed a lot of promise last year. As I thought about (it), and kind of get used to hearing the statement, and my God, no one has ever done it before, so I do have the odds stacked against me. But in my eyes, until we lose this thing, our history shows that we're very capable of winning another, if not the favorite."
PETTY DEAL: Kyle Petty is displeased with the way Petty Enterprises was consumed by Gillett Evernham Motorsports — then renamed Richard Petty Motorsports — and was "crushed" the new team co-opted a bit of his personal history.
"Petty Enterprises ceased to exist when it left (ancestral home) Level Cross, N.C.," said Petty, who does not have a Sprint Cup ride for the first time since 1979. "It further ceased to exist whenever the other group bought it, and that's just a fact of life."
But Petty was perhaps most irked by RPM's move to use, without consultation, a No. 44 Dodge for A.J. Allmendinger with the paint scheme Petty bore in winning in his first start, a 1979 ARCA race at Daytona. Petty drove the No. 44 at Petty Enterprises until his son Adam was killed in 2000, then he switched to his son's No. 45.
"I was crushed. I was hurt and I'm not going to get over it for a while," Petty, 48, said. "And that's a personal thing. That's me. That's not … anything to do with anything else. That was my paint job and my car and my number and my stuff from my first win. Not for Petty Enterprises or GEM or whoever that is."
SPARK PLUGS: Ryan Newman's emergency backup car could not be prepared quickly enough to allow him practice time before today's Daytona 500. A flat right rear tire — due to a debris puncture, according to Goodyear general manager of worldwide racing Stu Grant — caused his No. 39 Chevrolet to spin in the final practice; he was then hit by teammate Tony Stewart. The car was Newman's third in preparing for the opener. Stewart, who would have started fifth but must go to the back with Newman after changing cars, managed nine laps of practice with his backup car. He will use the car in which he finished third in the Bud Shootout. … Grant said there was no connection between Newman's tire issue and blistering problems suffered by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Newman in Thursday's 150-mile duels. Goodyear then recalled at least eight tires from one batch as a precaution.