SOLID GOLD Kyle Petty and The King Dodge interview KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Wells Fargo Financial Dodge Charger) HOW GOOD CAN YOU BE IN THE DAYTONA 500? "I don't know. Both cars are really good. I thought Bobby had a shot at winning the 150...
SOLID GOLD Kyle Petty and The King Dodge interview
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Wells Fargo Financial Dodge Charger)
HOW GOOD CAN YOU BE IN THE DAYTONA 500?
"I don't know. Both cars are really good. I thought Bobby had a shot at winning the 150 we were in. I hate it when we caught the last caution. I looked at Bobby and thought it might not be good for him. Obviously it was good for us with seven-10 laps to go. Paul (crew chief Andrews) made a great call and we got back out there. Then with the green-white-checkered (G-W-C) that put Bobby in a bad position because he was coming up until that point."
THE SHOOTOUT AND BOTH DUELS FINISHED G-W-C
"It'll go caution free Sunday. No, but Bobby had a shot at winning the 150 By putting two cars in the top six and then we've been at the top of the board all week. If you look at the top of the board for qualifying our speeds were in the top 10 pre-qualifying and then we had gear trouble just like the 10 car did, and that didn't help us. Then in the races we were good, the top five or 10. We've got two good cars and we're starting the season on a good solid note. Even being down here this week, we've come down here before and Tony has dominated every event or Gordon has dominated or somebody or Hendrick or Roush or Yates. Nobody is dominating right now, and I don't think there's a clear favorite for the 500. If there's not a clear favorite then that plays back to a team like Petty Enterprises, a team that's building. We've got just as good a chance as the other guys."
WHEN YOU COME TO DAYTONA DOES THAT PETTY BLUE BLOOD AUTOMATICALLY START PUMPING FASTER?
"Daytona has always been special for us. My grandfather won races down here. My grandfather's career for all intents and purposes ended down here. My father won a ton of races here. It's fun, my father won all of those Daytona 500s (seven), but he only won one 125-mile race. He just never put a lot of emphasis on the 125. It's always been a place where Petty Enterprises tried to prepare all winter for. Even if you go back the last three or four years when we've been bad, this has been one of the bright spots for us. Even if we qualified 20th that was a bright spot for us during the course of the year. You put a lot of emphasis on coming here. We were really good here last year. We got in a bad place a couple of times during the race, but we qualified good. I think we were the fastest Dodge last year. We qualified 11th or 12th. That shows we've made some progress because we came back this year and Bobby was sixth. You're not all the way there, but you're a lot closer to the pole. We were five 10ths off last year. We're only two or three 10ths off this time. When you look at it like that we've made some big gains. I think Robbie (Loomis) brought a lot of that and Paul being there for a year to get Robbie and Todd and those guys up to speed helped. I think Paul is the one in this whole group that has been underrated or left out because he's got the other guys up to speed pretty good."
YOU SAID THURSDAY THAT BOBBY FEELS LIKE HE'S GOT SOMETHING TO PROVE "I think he wants to prove to himself and everybody else out there... When you stay at one place for a long time, and Bobby and I have talked about this before because I stayed at Felix's for eight or nine years, and during that time you think you're making huge progress but at the end of that time you look back on it sometimes and think maybe you should have left a little earlier. I think in some ways Bobby personally feels that maybe he was too personally tied to the team and too personally involved and maybe he should have left a little sooner. There was a question last night on Eli's show. Somebody asked him if he ever doubted himself and he said yes. He did doubt himself, and I think that's what happens if you stay at one place too long. When I say Bobby has something to prove I think as much as anything he has something to prove to himself, that he can go somewhere else and be the driver that Bobby Labonte can be, not necessarily that he has anything to prove to the Gibbs organization or anybody out there or the fans, I think he has something to prove to himself, which is a harder thing to do than sticking it in somebody's face. When you've got to stick it in your own face, like that commercial where you're sticking it to the man and you are the man. It's the same thing, and I think that's what he's trying to do, prove to himself that he can be a driver and he can win races again and will win races again. I think he's gone a long way in the first few days down here in doing that."
DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO PROVE?
"No, no. I'm past the point where I try to prove stuff. You know what I mean? If I did I'd be a better fisherman. I just don't. You don't what I mean? I think Bobby and Robbie and Todd and that whole group will make Petty Enterprises better. When the water rises, then it'll bring the 45 up too, and I think that's what we saw yesterday and what we've seen all along. As the fortunes come up at Petty Enterprises both teams get better. I still think I can win races. I'm not the driver I once was, and that's just the way it is, but you can still win races. Are you going to win tons of races and all that stuff? No, but you can slide in there and get a race now and then and if you go through the garage area there's a lot of guys like that can. We've just got to put ourselves in position at Petty Enterprises where we can do it a lot more consistently."
EVEN LAST YEAR, GOOD OR BAD, BOTH CARS WERE CLOSE TOGETHER
"Yeah, and that's the way it's always been. I've said it all along. Even when we started five years ago with Dodge and we went through the Intrepid and now the Charger, the point for us in a lot of ways was consistency. If you could build two cars coming out of the same shop and make them consistent that was OK. We just need to raise that level of consistency. That's what we said, and we feel like Robbie and Paul and Bobby and Todd and that group and I give those guys a lot of credit. At the same time, you walk in our trailer and we've got two new shock guys. There's a new shock guy on the 45 and the 43. We've got guys at the shop that are brand new, that came because of that group. We've got guys on the pit crew that came to Petty Enterprises because of those guys. It's a lot deeper with the change of personnel at Petty Enterprises. The morale and motivation runs a lot deeper this year."
IF THE KING TOLD THE TRUTH, WOULD HE RATHER SEE THE 43 OR 45 WIN?
"I'd rather win. I'll be honest. From a personal standpoint, I'd rather be the guy. From a company standpoint the 43 is important. It has to win. That's who we are. That's our brand. That's like GM selling cars. They've got to sell Chevys. They can sell all the GMs and Cadillacs they want to, but Chevy's their brand. That's what makes or breaks the back of General Motors. For us, the 43 is our car. That's who we are. That's who we'll always be. That's who Petty Enterprises will always be. The 43 has to win races. For longevity and for what we need, we need the 43 to win."
IS THE KING SMILING MORE THESE DAYS?
"He's not calling us into the back office as much, let's just say that. I won't say he's smiling more, but he's not getting on to us as much."
COMMENT ON LEVEL OF COMPETITION
"There's always only five of six guys, seven or eight guys that can win. There's another 15 or 20 that can slide in and win. When you look at the consistent guys, I'm only going to pick the standard seven or eight. I will say this, I think if you go 20 years back and then come forward 10 years the competition doubled in those 10 years and it's doubled again in the last 10 years. The caliber of cars, drivers, crews, it's all gone up. That water level has raised tremendously. When you look at it, there are a ton of cars and a ton of good teams and a ton of good people who can come out and run competitively. That's why the field is so tight when we go to open places like California and Vegas. There may be seven cars within a tenth of a second and there used to be two cars. Then you'd move to the next tenth and there would be three cars. I think that's what makes it so competitive, and that's why you have to be spot on when it comes to running a race or winning a race. You've got to make everything happen for you. You can't overcome mistakes. If you go back a year and look at the 24 and 8, two cars that everybody made such a big deal about, in years past they're strong enough teams that they could overcome mistakes. Last year the competition level has risen so high, a mistake really knocks you back and you can't overcome that mistake."
WHAT KIND OF VOID HAVE YOU SEEN THE LAST FIVE YEARS SINCE DALE EARNHARDT'S ACCIDENT?
"No void. No void. You guys make a lot more out of that than anybody else does, and I'm not being, and please, I want to temper that comment by saying I don't mean that in any way derogatory toward Dale Sr. at all. Dale Sr. was a force in this sport. Was Dale Sr. this sport? Not in any way, shape or form. If he was this sport would have shut down five years ago. What I mean is, he was at the end of his dynasty. No matter what, he would have still continued to win races. Maybe he would have won another championship. Who knows? But he was at the end of his turn at the top of the hill. It was Gordon's turn. Gordon is the guy at the top of the hill right now, and he's made the transition. The guy who is coming along might not even be out here right now, but the guy who will be the next Jeff Gordon or Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt Sr. might not even be out here right now. I don't think there has been the void everybody wants to talk about. Obviously there's still a huge amount of Dale Earnhardt Sr. fans, just like there were if you go back 20 years when The King retired. For five or six years he still sold more souvenirs than anybody else. You look at his Q scores (advertising) and his Q scores are still higher than about 90 percent of us out here. When you look at it in those terms he's still extremely popular, but it's only five years removed from his death. Come back in 10 years, come back in 15 years, come back in 20 years and if there's still a lot of No. 3 flags out here and still a lot of Dale Earnhardt stuff, then you have to say yeah, it was huge. At this time, I think it's still too early, and I don't mean that bad."
DOES THERE NEED TO BE A DRIVER'S VOICE IN THE GARAGE?
"There doesn't need to be a voice in the garage. It's just different. The sport has changed. The sport has moved past that. You go back to when my father and those guys started the professional drivers association and boycotted Talladega in the late 60s. That was a group that spoke through one person, Richard Petty, one voice that spoke to NASCAR because they thought that's what they needed to do. That model was created during that period of time and from that time forward Richard Petty became the voice of NASCAR to NASCAR. Then Darrell Waltrip stepped into that role. Then along came Dale. That was good for the old model of NASCAR. Now NASCAR has a totally different model. That was when there was one guy sitting in that truck and one guy sitting across the street, Bill France Jr., and those were the people you had to talk to, just those two people. Now you've got Robin Pemberton, John Darby, Mike Helton, the marketing side, the PR side, the licensing side. It's such an open book now if I've got an issue with NASCAR I just go talk to Helton or go across the street and talk to Darby or I can call Bill France or Brian France or Lesa France Kennedy. You can just call 'em up and talk to 'em. It's a lot more open than it used to be. There doesn't necessarily have to be a voice. I think Tony Stewart said it best yesterday. I was watching the first of the race and they were interviewing Tony. They said something to Tony about speaking out about bump drafting and was he the voice of the drivers? He said 'no, anytime any of us want to, we can go up and talk to 'em.' That's the way they've become. That's the way NASCAR is. That's what makes this a great sport. Any driver can go in there and say 'I don't like bump drafting. We need to make a rule.' In the past it hasn't always been that way. It's that way now so you don't necessarily need a representative to go in there. I don't think Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson or anybody has to fill that void because that position was beginning to be phased out no matter what."
WILL NASCAR LISTEN TO SOME DRIVERS MORE THAN OTHERS?
"Not really, I don't think they do. You are (a troublemaker) if you go in there with just nitpicking stuff. If I'm on my roof on the backstretch because somebody put me there and I go in there, call me a troublemaker if you want to. That's my point. There's a lot of ways to get your point across. It goes on in Washington, D.C. everyday. It's just lobbying. All of us can be lobbyists if you want to look at it that way. In the past we couldn't. Now all of us can."
HAS TONY STEWART BECOME MORE VOCAL?
"If you're not a group, why do you need a leader. If we're not all on the same page... If anybody goes in there on some things they probably speak for me. If they go in there on other things, they're not speaking for me. That's not the way I feel. They can go in there and complain about X, Y and Z and that's not the way I feel. I'm 45. I'm at this point in my career. Kyle Busch is at this point in his career. You think we have the same issues? No, we're on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to racing. I shouldn't be able to be his representative unless he says 'Kyle, I really want you to go in there and talk about this.' Nobody I know ever went to Dale Sr. or Richard Petty or anybody else and said, 'go in the NASCAR truck and tell 'em this.' It wasn't that type of representation. I think we all on this side has a little bit of misconception of what representing the drivers means. I think the sport has grown to a point where the driver is a representative of each team in a way, but the driver can into the NASCAR trailer, the owner can go into the NASCAR trailer, the crew chiefs go into the NASCAR trailer. It's more of an open society than it used to be. Whether they listen or not that's a totally different issue. That's not what I'm saying, but it is more of an open forum than it used to be. That's why I think the day of this guy is the leader of the drivers, this guy speaks for the drivers, this guy speaks for the crew chief, this guy speaks for the owners, that doesn't happen."
Continued in part 2