Progress Far From Petty
by Pete McCole

June 7, 2002

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Kyle Petty sits in 20th place in the Winston Cup points.
Photo by Dodge/Allsport

A lot of things come to mind when you hear the name Petty - Lee Petty, winner of the first Daytona 500; "The King" Richard Petty, seven championships and 200 victories; a proud and successful family legacy of stock car dominance spanning over five decades. Kyle Petty, with more than 600 races and 8 Winston Cup victories, and of course, Adam Petty, and his so very short racing career.

As the 2001 season came to a close, the foundation the Petty dynasty had been built on had begun to show cracks amid dismal finishes and a trail of bent sheet metal.

Kyle Petty has been there for many of the highs and lows the Petty's have experienced, and certainly all of the lows pale in comparison to the death of his son Adam in a crash at New Hampshire in May of 2000. Now entering his 23rd Winston Cup season, Petty now has two hats to wear - driver of the #45 Sprint Dodge, and CEO of Petty Enterprises, and it has fallen to him to fix the cracks.

After a disappointing season in 2001, Petty Enterprises is finally enjoying some success. Petty is 20th in the Winston Cup point's standings, #43 Cheerios Dodge driver John Andretti is 32nd and #44 Georgia-Pacific Dodge driver Steve Grissom is 43rd. And while some teams might not call that success, when measured against the past few seasons, it's cause for hope for Petty Enterprises - a new foundation of success for the team to build on.

"The biggest sign that we've started to turn the corner is all our teams are finishing somewhere between 25th and 15th." Petty said. "We were good at running 35th-43rd last year. At the end of the year we got pretty good at running 25th-35th. You get excited about that, but you just exceeded your goals that day. You've got to stay focused on your goals. Your goals are 15th-25th. You can't be disappointed if you run 16th. You're right where you need to be to build on it.

"Our team, the 45 team, has probably stepped up a little bit." Petty said, "We're probably ahead of where we wanted to be. We've been able to run a lot more in the 10th-20th positions, but still our goal is between 15th and 25th. We've got to get the 43 and 44 cars to run more consistently in that range."

Petty also has hopes of turning the season around for Andretti's team. The #43 team finished best out of the three teams in the 2001 points standings - 35th, but this year, they've notched just three top-20's finishes, their best being a pair of 15th place showings at Rockingham and Charlotte.

John Andretti's career at Petty Enterprises is much like his Winston paint scheme, good & bad all at the same time.
Photo by Dodge/Allsport

"It's frustrating because I really put a lot of faith that those guys (43 team) were our best team last year." Petty said, "It's frustrating for him (John Andretti), but it's frustrating for us because the 43 is our marquee team. That's who we are. We can stand here and talk 44 and 45 until the cows come home, but when people think Petty Enterprises, they think the 43. 

"We need all of our teams to run good, not just the 45. We look at ourselves as one team, and right now, part of our teams is running good and part of our teams is OK and part of our teams is struggling a little bit. We've got to get everybody on the run good side of the column. Two teams can't be in the top 10 and one team be 45th and then say we're where we want to be. That's not where we want to be."

After struggling just to make the show in several races last year, Petty Enterprises hoped to turn things around in 2002, and took a big step in the right direction by bringing in Robin Pemberton as Vice President and General Manager. The team also abandoned their in-house engine program, turning to Mike Ege, formally of Robert Yates organization, to supply power plants for all three teams.

Steve Grissom replaced Buckshot Jones earlier this year in the #44.
Photo by Dodge/Allsport

Petty Enterprises has also made several changes to the #44 Georgia-Pacific team, replacing second-year driver Buckshot Jones, who had a history of tearing up equipment, with veteran driver Steve Grissom. The team also moved crew chief Greg Steadman from the #43 team over to the #44, replacing Bryant Frazier, and named Brandon Thomas as the new crew chief of the #43.

"I think that everything Kyle has done has gone in the right direction," said Steven Lane, crew chief of the #45 Sprint Dodge. "With Kyle kinda easing back from the business role and taking more of a driver role, putting Robin Pemberton in, that was probably the best thing he could have done." 

As the other teams performance on the racetrack improves, Petty hopes to be able to concentrate less on being a CEO, and more on being a driver.

"My main focus right now is the 45 car." Petty said, "I'm proving to myself that if Adam was still here and driving this race car that he could run competitive and he could win races. I think that's the part that bothered me the most about last year with the 45 not making races. I looked at it and said, 'this is me not making races, but this would be bad for Adam if he was here."

Although Petty doesn't expect overnight success, he hopes the changes the team has made over the last two seasons will lead them back to the winning ways this team once enjoyed.

"I think our results (on race track) are a multitude of things," said Petty. "I think when we went to the Dodge program, that was big for us to reorganize. I think a lot of the changes we made last year, we were going to have to make no matter where we were at, but they weren't instant payoffs and we knew that." 

"I think this year, some of the stuff we did last year is beginning to pay off and hopefully some of the stuff we're doing right now will pay off next year." Petty added, "Not everything you do in motorsports, just as in life, has instant reward and instant gratification. Sometimes you have to wait for it.

"When I look back in four or five years and we're winning races and have a shot at winning the championship, then I'll say 2001 was groundwork although our race track performance was really bad that year. We pretty much built the foundation we're going to build on top of."

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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