Daytona 500: Kyle Petty - Dodge interview, part 1

KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge Charger) COMMENT ON PROGRESS AT PETTY ENTERPRISES "I've said it before because I've talked to some of you guys. Ray's engines have been the biggest step forward for us. Obviously the Charger was...

KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge Charger)

COMMENT ON PROGRESS AT PETTY ENTERPRISES

"I've said it before because I've talked to some of you guys. Ray's engines have been the biggest step forward for us. Obviously the Charger was big. When we started with the Charger this year, Ray dedicated seven or eight people on working with the Charger basically 12-14 months ago. We chimed in and put three or four guys from our shop in the mix, so Ray's guys and our guys worked really close together with Dodge trying to say, 'OK, this was the Intrepid, this is the Charger. Keep the body lines so you see it's a Dodge with the grille, plus make it so it's a nice racecar that's more of a downforce racecar than a speedway racecar.' We really wanted to focus on making it a good balanced racecar. Then coming on board this year with Ray's engines, we always felt like we had a legitimate speedway program, but we just haven't been able to show it the past three or four years with John Andretti driving the car or Jeff Green driving the car or myself. I think coming down here and posting a speed that was in the top 15 overall with Ray's engines in our cars, that was a big step for us. I think from that respect, the engine combination will make us more competitive as we go through the year.

"The Charger is new, so we've got to learn that and that will be a little bit different, but working closer with Ray and Dodge, hopefully the learning curve will be accelerated a little bit."

IS THIS THE YEAR A PETTY WILL RETURN TO VICTORY LANE AT DAYTONA?

"No, I wouldn't go that far. That's what we come down here for. That's what everybody comes down here for. That's the best part about being at Daytona, I don't care what anybody says. You can take all the junk that goes on down here, but the best part about being at Daytona is it's a white sheet of paper. Nobody has done anything. Even after qualifying and the qualifying races, it doesn't matter until we run the 500. We can talk about everything that happened yesterday, but come Tuesday or Wednesday no one will be talking about the Duel races. They'll be talking about the 500. That's just the way it is. That's what it's all about.

"We struggled last year. We struggled the last couple of years as everyone knows. We ended up 32nd and 35th in points. We didn't have a lot of strong runs. We had one top 10 through all of Petty Enterprises last year. To come down here and think you're going to bust everybody in the biggest race of the season is a little bit unrealistic. You can think we can make a step forward and come down here and run in the top 20. We can come down here and run in the top 15. You come to win, don't get me wrong, but I think we'd be satisfied leaving here in the top 15."

HOW MUCH BETTER IS THE TEAM WITH EVERNHAM MOTORS?

"To put a percentage on it, I'm going to have to say we're 10 million percent. If you go back and look, and this is just one race, but I think what Evernham Motorsports has done and what Evernham engines has done, looking at our test stuff we had at Vegas, California and here, we're head and shoulders above where we were at. The stuff we had before, in 2002, we felt like we made the switch from in-house engines to out-sourcing engines and it was a good move. It worked for us good. It's not that it got a lot worse. It just flat-lined, and in this sport if you flat line, you just die. We flat-lined with our engine development the past two or three years. Ray's stuff continues to go up.

"Even since we started dealing with him last year, he's gone through two or three iterations of engines and advanced that thing from when we tested to when we came back down here and tested. The big thing for us is there's constant innovation going on with Ray and Dodge and now we're part of that. I think from that perspective now we've got to go back and now we've got a new yardstick or barometer to measure ourselves off of. When we go to California or Vegas for come here, we've got to be as good as the 19 and 9. If we're not, we've got to go back to our shop and work on the cars because it's not because of the engines. It's more because of the teams or cars or people or drivers. It gives us a better evaluation of where we are as a team."

HAS YOUR RECENT SUCCESS GIVEN YOU A FEELING OF RE-INVIGORATION?

"No, I don't think it gives you a feeling of re-invigoration. Everybody is invigorated when they come to Daytona, even you guys when you get here the first day. By the third day it's like 'when's this going to be over with?' And believe me, we're the same way. The new year gives you that invigoration. For us this year, looking at the Charger and having that nameplate -- it's a lot cooler telling someone you drive the Charger instead of the Intrepid. No knock on the Intreipd, but the Charger is a nameplate that's won a ton of races here in this arena. That's an established nameplate, so having the Charger and having all Dodge put behind that the last 12 or 14 months.... Then you look at the engine stuff and judging off what Ray's cars did last year and the year before and if you watch how that team has built itself, the engine has been a big part of that. We had a lot of unanswered questions going into last year and we never found an answer to any of them. This year, I think we have a lot of plusses that are already answered. We know what our engine program is. We know where our car stuff is. I think we're in a lot better position to move forward this year than we were last year."

IS BUMP DRAFTING NECESSARY?

"I think it is absolutely, positively idiotic. Period. End of conversation. At 180 mph whether you're running in a straight line or you're running in the corner, you shouldn't be running into people. We should be better drivers than to run into each other. Let's go back 10-15-20 years, who heard of bump drafting? People raced each other clean. That was the biggest thing about these guys and about those drivers. If you talked to Richard Petty or Bobby Allison about racing at Daytona and stuff, the one word they always brought up was respect. They respected each other. They respected each other's ability. They respected each other's equipment. They respected the speed they were running at.

"What we don't have here, I don't think, and this is from an old guy's perspective, you don't have the respect of equipment. You don't have the respect of each other and you don't have the respect of the space that's yours on the racetrack. That's not your space anymore. That can be anybody's space. All they've got to do is knock you out of the way. I think we saw that in the 150s. You've seen it down here for so long. The restrictor-plate, maybe, you can say contributes to that, but you're still the guy sitting in there with your foot on the accelerator and hanging onto the steering wheel. You don't necessarily have to run into that guy to get him by the guy in front of you. It's going to take a little bit longer to get that guy around the guy in front of you if you're drafting with him, but you don't have to just knock him by or you don't have to just knock the guy out of the way. The simplest thing, if you guys walk around out here today and look at the front bumpers and rear bumpers in these cars, and then go to California and look at the bumpers in these cars, we run more bumpers here than we do at Martinsville. We run more metal in the front end and more metal in the rear of the car here than we do at a place like Martinsville. Why? I don't understand that.

"Bump drafting is something that has started that the younger drivers and people have watched it on TV and they believe Benny Parsons and Darrell Waltrip and all the guys that write about it and talk about it. They believe it's part of the sport, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a part of the sport."

DOES THE SAME THING APPLY FOR BLOCKING?

"Ten years ago we didn't have out of bounds, either. Let's go back to the infamous 1979 race. That was blocking at its best. The only thing that made it spectacular was that one of them decided they needed to be out in the grass to try to get around him. Then we had the big wreck with Cale and Donnie, so blocking has always been here. It's always been an accepted practice to some degree that the leader of the race is the leader of the race. He can do basically what he wants to. It's been that way in all types of racing. It doesn't make any difference. You need to go and look at what some other sports do. Some other motorsports now have the blocking police up there. They allow you three blocks a race and that's it and then they start penalizing you. I think blocking is fair. I don't have a problem with blocking."

WHAT'S THE CORRELATION BETWEEN WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 AND HAVING A GREAT CAREER?

"I think it's what the press makes out of it. Sorry. Nobody can sit here and say if Mark Martin doesn't win the 500 he's not been one of the greatest racecar drivers ever to come through this series. Even if Mark Martin never wins a championship here, nobody can say Mark Martin's not a great champion. You can't take that away from Mark Martin. He's a phenomenal guy, and Rusty is the same way. I don't think it takes away from their resume by any stretch of the imagination. I'd rather be sitting in Rusty's position or Mark's position and having run second, having won 50 or 60 races than having won one or two races in my lifetime and Daytona was it. That's big. I'm not belittling Daytona by any stretch, but Daytona is our crown, but there's a lot of great football players or basketball players that never make it to the championship game and never get that ring. I don't think it diminishes from triple doubles or how many touchdown passes they threw in their career or how many yards they ran for. It doesn't take away from that. It's just another statistic. If you come here 100 times and don't win, you just don't win. It's just not your place. This place has not been kind to Mark Martin by any stretch of the imagination, and it's not been kind to Rusty, either. To get through this race and move on, I don't see it as a negative at all."

COMMENT ON DRIVER MEDIA TRAINING

"The problem is the sport obviously changes because of sponsors. Sponsors want you to sit there and say Georgia-Pacific, Coca-Cola, General Mills -- dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. They want to get their point across. I think a lot of times the guys are talking and they've got that in the back of their mind because that is media training. I'm not sure it's media training that's the issue or media handling. I mean that in the kindest way possible to any PR rep out there, but whether it's Mulhern or whoever it may be, I have been doing this long enough where you guys should feel comfortable just walking up on my truck. I've got no problem with you walking up on my truck if you've got a question because I'm going to tell you 'I ain't got time for you right now' or I'm going to say, 'come on in and sit down and let's talk.' There's so much going on out there right now that you guys are kept at arms distance, so now you don't feel a connection to that driver. If I feel a connection to you and I feel like I wouldn't mind going to dinner with you guys or sitting down and doing this or whatever, then I'm going to be more open with you. If there's a cushion between us, then I'm not going to be as open with you.

"I think that's the big thing where this sport has gotten to a point where there's a buffer between you guys and what's really going on in the garage area and that buffer, there's a filter and whatever goes through the top side of the filter before it gets to you it's homogenized. It's monotone. That's the spill. That's our statement. We're standing behind it. The only time you get true statements is like yesterday when accidents happen and everybody is stupid and everybody is an idiot and we shouldn't be out there and we need IQ tests for drivers. That's when you get the honest answers, but any other time you don't get it. I'm not sure that's bad for this sport, and I'm not sure it's good for the sport. I just think the sport is going through a transition period where over the last eight or 10 years you have that.

"Some of you guys who go back a long way when my father and those guys raced, then really the pressure room could have been as big as that room over there (pointing to a small room) because only three or four guys came down here to talk to Richard Petty or Bobby Allison or Cale Yarborough. It was easy for Tom Higgins and Benny Phillips and guys like that. It was simple for my father and those guys to get to really know those reporters and have a relationship with those reporters. I don't think now there's very many of you guys who have relationships with drivers and feel that way. In some ways I think that's a bad thing. I do think that connection has been broken."

WHY DON'T SOME OF THE DRIVERS HAVE RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?

"NASCAR can do nothing, and I don't think it's NASCAR's job to do that. I think in a lot of ways it's the changing face of the sport. This sport changes, and change is good for this sport. I think it's really good, but in a lot ways what we're talking about with some of the things going on is kinda like the NBA or NFL when everybody started talking trash to each other. You never saw the old players talk trash. If they did, they did it in such a subtle way that nobody knew what was going on. You didn't see them strutting when they scored a touchdown. That was a different time in those sports. It was a different time in this sport 15-20 years ago. Now these guys, they've got to a point where this part is almost like talking trash to some degree. You can't teach respect. You have to go out there and earn it and gain it. You either do or don't, and I don't think NASCAR can step in and say you guys have got to get along.

"They can say that all day long, but that's going to make you get along. If you watch, most of the guys who have crashed really hard here drive this place totally different than the guys who have never crashed at all here. Most of the guys who have been on their roof at Talladega drive it different than guys who haven't. That's the separating factor. It's not that NASCAR teaches you respect. Maybe God teaches you respect at some point in time when you're sliding on your roof. You say, 'maybe I didn't need to do that.' Maybe it's that kind of thing."

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Jeff Green , Richard Petty , Benny Parsons , Bobby Allison , Mark Martin