DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 5, 2002) - Kyle Petty is getting accustomed to wheeling sportscars. He finished seventh overall in last year's Rolex 24 At Daytona and won in a class at the Grand American Road Racing Series event at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Now, Petty is back at Daytona International Speedway for some more sportscar fun. When he makes his third Grand-Am start in the 40th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Feb. 2-3, he'll continue to drive the No. 43 Orbit Racing Porsche GT3 R with Leo Hindery and Peter Baron.
Petty, who missed the first day of testing because of a winter storm on Thursday, got to take his first laps on the Speedway's 3.56-mile road course on Friday. After he turned a few laps, his sportscar experience from last year kicked in.
"I still wanted to drive it like a Winston Cup car on a road course," said Petty, who drives the No. 45 Sprint Dodge in the Winston Cup Series. "That's not the way you drive these cars. After I'd run about four or five laps, it began to come back a little bit.
"I came in and talked to Peter and Leo and Mike Borkowski who is helping us and I said, 'OK, where's my mistake? What gear do I need to be in?' They were pretty simple questions to be honest with you. Stuff I should've remembered from year to year, but a lot has happened between last year and this year."
Petty competed in last year's Rolex 24 with the late Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drove for Team Corvette. This year, he has a few more Winston Cup friends racing in the twice-around-the-clock endurance race, including Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, Wally Dallenbach and Kevin Harvick.
Said Petty: "I think with Dale and Dale Jr. and myself, a lot of guys were sitting at home and said, 'Hey, those guys look like there having a good time. Let's go down there and try it.' "
Petty likes getting his motorsports juices pumping with the Rolex 24 At Daytona. He says it makes it a little easier on his nerves as he enters the all important stock car portion of Speedweeks.
"It's pretty tough to come down here and have your Gatorade 125 be your initial race and the Daytona 500 be your next one," Petty said. "There's a lot of pressure on those races. (The Rolex 24) kind of takes some of the butterflies from it.
"The only disadvantage is your racing out of your league. You stand the chance of coming down and looking down like an idiot. We're not road racers by any stretch. I wouldn't put myself on par with the guys on my own team much less with James Weaver, Elliott Forbes-Robinson or Jack Baldwin.
"Eventually, people get to a point that they build a name for themselves. They got an ego and you stand a good chance of coming down here and getting your ego bruised. Maybe I don't have much of a ego or I don't care."
The three-day Rolex 24 At Daytona test concluded on Saturday with Doran Lista Racing and the No. 27 Judd Dallara as the fastest car. The team of Fredy Lienhard, Didier Theys, Mauro Baldi and Max Papis turned a fast lap of 127.942 mph. Jim Matthews Racing was second fastest with a lap of 127.182 mph in the Riley & Scott with drivers Jim Matthews, Guy Smith, Scott Sharp and Robby Gordon.
Next up on the testing schedule at Daytona is the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, which will test on Monday, Jan. 7 through Wednesday, Jan. 9 with the odd-numbered teams in the 2001 owner's points standings. The test session is free and open to the public with access to a section of the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of DAYTONA USA.
Tickets for the 40th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona can be purchased online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223.
Top 5 Rolex Sports Car Series Speeds Saturday, Jan. 5
1. No. 27 Doran Lista Racing Judd Dallara, Fredy Lienhard, Didier Theys, Max Papis, 127.942 mph
2. No. 36 Jim Matthews Racing Ford Riley & Scott, Jim Matthews, Scott Sharp, Robby Gordon, Guy Smith, 127.192
3. No. 2 Judd Crawford, Jan Lammers, Tony Stewart, Johnny Mowlem, 126.722
4. No. 16 Dyson Racing Ford Riley & Scott, James Weaver, Butch Leitzinger, Oliver Gavin, 126.579
5. No. 49, Ascari, 125.859
31. No. 90 Flis Motorsports Corvette, Dave Liniger, Rick Carelli, Metcalf, Kevin Harvick, 111.896
38. No. 43 Orbit Racing GT3 R, Leo Hindery, Kyle Petty, Peter Baron, 111.061