Petty back behind the wheel This weekend, Kyle Petty and the #45 Wells Fargo Dodge team will travel west to the two-mile California Speedway for Sunday’s California 500. The annual fall race at California has become the new Labor Day tradition for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.
Petty will be making his return to the #45 Dodge after missing the past two weeks with a broken hand suffered at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Petty regrets the episode, but it showed the racing community that he still has that competitive fire burning. Petty remains determined to keep the team inside the top-35 in owner points.
In 14 starts at California, Petty has notched two top-20 finishes. On a historical note, Petty is the only driver entered this weekend that competed in the final race at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway in 1980. Ontario was the first oval track foray by NASCAR into southern California.
Comments from Petty as he prepares for Sunday’s California 500:
“Yea, I think it’s going to be good. We’re going to get out there in the first practice session and just feel out the hand. Right now, it feels pretty good. I don’t expect I will have any problems.
“My doctors worked hard repairing the bone that was broken. I really wanted to race last weekend at Bristol, but it wasn’t a good idea. Bristol is a tough track on you physically. California is much easier on your body.
“Chad (McCumbee) and Kenny (Wallace) did a great job for me while I healed. Everyone at Petty Enterprises appreciate their efforts. We put both guys, on a short notice, in the car. They were in a tough position, but they helped me out. That was good.”
“Petty Enterprises, as an organization, our performance has been getting better over these last couple of weeks. We are getting into the end of the season. It’s pretty important for us to keep the momentum going. The teams are getting better, but we still have work to do.
“We have some pretty good tracks coming up, tracks that I really like. Dover, Talladega, Charlotte and places like that. That is going to help us. We are focused on staying in the top-35 in points, but really finishing the year strong.
“California can be a good track for us. It is one of those tracks where you have to really hit the setup right. You do have a lot of room to race, a lot of room to find out where your car wants to run, but you still need to hit the setup. Billy (Wilburn, crew chief) and the entire Wells Fargo team have brought some great downforce cars to these tracks this year. Our cars have been getting better and we’re working hard to get them better.
“Coil-binding the front springs is still the hot thing to do at these tracks. We have been working hard in that department. It is not an easy thing to do. Believe me. For some of us it is a hard concept to wrap our heads around. It is just like the first time everyone started adjusting the flow of the shock absorbers as a way to improve front end geometry. Now, you wouldn’t think of showing up at a track without several different sets of shocks to try. It just takes time, but we are making progress. I like the direction we are headed in.”