DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 13, 2001 -- Richard Petty, a long-time stock car racing legend from Level Cross, N.C., will get a chance to add another chapter to the NASCAR record book this season. Petty already has posted some remarkable ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 13, 2001 -- Richard Petty, a long-time stock car racing legend from Level Cross, N.C., will get a chance to add another chapter to the NASCAR record book this season.
Petty already has posted some remarkable accomplishments throughout his 32-year career as a driver. He holds a seemingly insurmountable record of 200 NASCAR triumphs. Thirty-seven of those wins and three of his record seven championships came behind the wheel of a Dodge. Petty also leads all drivers with seven Daytona 500 victories, including Dodge's last win at Daytona in 1974.
Fielding a three-car Dodge Intrepid R/T team in 2001, Petty Enterprises will be on hand to help rekindle the glory years from the 1950s-1970s when Dodge won 160 races, 165 poles and two manufacturers titles in stock car's premiere division.
"It's going to be interesting this time around, but going back with Dodge for a whole new deal is great," Petty said. "I'm optimistic about going back to Daytona with Dodge, but you can't help but be a little skeptical at the same time.
"It's like throwing a rabbit in a briar patch and not knowing what he's going to find once he gets in there."
Petty Enterprises' hares hoping to escape unharmed from the briar patch this season will consist of Kyle Petty, CEO of Petty Enterprises, John Andretti and Buckshot Jones. Petty, 40, will drive the No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T. Andretti, 37, will pilot the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge, and Jones, 30, will steer the No. 44 Georgia-Pacific Intrepid.
"All three teams have got the same cars built in the same place by the same people," Richard Petty said. "The crews will probably set up the cars a little differently, but the drivers will be the deciding factor.
"I feel like we've got good crews with all three teams, but time will tell. The 43 team stayed together pretty much from last year. The 45 team is established. It was a Busch crew last year, but most of the guys on it had worked in Winston Cup before. The 44 is basically a new team with a lot of new people and a new driver."
And a manufacturer returning for the first time in 15 seasons.
Petty said Dodge's "one-team approach" to racing has been a refreshing change.
"When we were with Dodge before, it was more factory-oriented at that time," said Petty, who won an unbelievable 27 of 48 races in a Dodge in 1967. "When we ran the Hemi engine in 1964, we had never seen the motor before until they sent one down to us. We've been more involved with things this time, but the concept is the same. We're partners with Dodge. We do our part and then ask them for help.
"Dodge is operating more from the old school than what we've been used to recently from the factory. We can only do so much on our own. Dodge gives us the technical support we can't afford to get on our own."
Dodge returns to Daytona for the 2001 campaign with 10 drivers and five teams. Petty Enterprises will field the only three-car Dodge team. Melling Racing, with driver Stacy Compton, is the only single-car Dodge team. Chip Ganassi Racing, Evernham Motorsports and Bill Davis Racing each will field two-car teams.
Kyle Petty has taken over extra duties at Petty Enterprises, and he's banking on rebuilding the Petty dynasty with Dodge.
"It's been a great thing for us," Kyle Petty said. "We were able to take everything we had and start over. I think we're better now than we were last year. When we look at our engine program, and when we look at our car program, when we look at the depth of the organization, we're a lot better team, a lot stronger team coming into Daytona this year than we were last year or the year before that or the year before that.
"We're a lot better organized and have some direction. It's been long and hard, and it's not over by any stretch of the imagination. We've got a long, long way to go to run with the Gibbs teams and Rusty Wallace and Roush teams and Earnhardts and teams like that, but I think we've made some positive steps in that direction."
Richard Petty has set some goals for his three Dodge Intrepid teams at Daytona and beyond.
"If we can qualify all three cars and finish in the top 20, that'll give us something to build on," Petty said. "Then we can work on getting in the top 15 and top 10 and work our way into the system.
"No matter how hard you've trained or prepared, you don't know how good you're going to be until you're under fire. You can train the troops all you want to. Until you get in battle, you don't know how they're going to perform. It's the same with a football team or a race team. You don't know how good you're going to be until you go against the competition."
With 36 points races in 2001, the Daytona 500 will not make or break any team's entire season. Not since 1971, when Plymouth won 22 of 48 races, has the schedule been this packed.
Teams have had to make personnel changes, adding crew members and building more cars. The King said the changes came at the right time for Petty Enterprises.
"We've got to stay on an even keel," Petty said. "We can't put our expectations too high from the start. We can't expect to finish 1-2-3 at Daytona. We've been working well with the Dodge folks. They've been really open minded, and if we have a problem, they give us support and we get things worked out. Now, it's time to race and see where we stack up. By the time we leave Daytona, I'm sure we'll have a better idea of how things are going to go.
"It's a new era, a new century. We've revamped everything. We needed a new road to get caught back up because we weren't getting the job done the way we were going. It's like a new lease on life. We're going in open minded with a new game plan. We're going to forget the last century. This whole deal is going to be different."