KYLE PETTY FEATURE MBNA 400 Advance September 21, 1999 Note: Hot Wheels Pontiac driver Kyle Petty returns to the site of his last NASCAR Winston Cup triumph when the circuit heads to Dover Downs International Speedway for Sunday's MBNA 400.
KYLE PETTY FEATURE MBNA 400 Advance September 21, 1999
Note: Hot Wheels Pontiac driver Kyle Petty returns to the site of his last NASCAR Winston Cup triumph when the circuit heads to Dover Downs International Speedway for Sunday's MBNA 400. Petty won the spring race at the one-mile superspeedway in 1995. Petty is in his first season back at Petty Enterprises with teammate John Andretti. Petty admits the move has affected his season, but he sees a solid foundation being laid for the future.
KYLE PETTY (No. 44 Hot Wheels Pontiac Grand Prix): "On a personal level, I'd say my season has been bad. Then I look at my deal and we've missed a couple of races, but we've run good in a couple of races and had trouble. When you're as far down in points as I am, nobody's had as many top-10s as I have down there. John's only had seven or eight top-10s. I've had six. He's had more top-fives and a win. When I look at the total season and the bigger picture, you have to remember, I started this team three years ago. We were in Charlotte. Then when we moved to Petty Enterprises, I was the only one that moved. We started all over again. (Crew chief) Doug (Hewitt) was new to me. We've been trying to form a team all year long. It's just been in the last four or five races where we feel like we've got a pretty decent team. Now we have to get better. First you have to get a team, then you have to get better. It's taken us all year to get a team. I think from that perspective, the 44 car has had an OK year. It's not had a great year, but it has had an OK year. Petty Enterprises as a hole has had a little bit better year than it had last year. John's won a race and has run up front a little bit more. There's been two or three other times where they've run good and had trouble. When you look at what they could have done, they've had a shot at probably 15 races of having really good runs. It's a matter now of capitalizing on it. We're just not to that stage where we're able to capitalize every week. We do sometimes, but we don't all the time. I can't say it's been that bad a season."
TALK ABOUT THE TRANSITION AT PETTY ENTERPRISES. "It's been a huge transition there. Dale Inman left and Robbie Loomis took over everything. Everything is on Robbie's shoulders. This is Rick Mann's first full year of building motors for two cars. We added 20,000-square feet. We added 15 or 20 employees. That just disrupts everything. As much as you try to say, 'Oh, well, it hasn't been a big change.' It has. You'd like to think that it wouldn't cause distractions, you'd like to think you're capable of racing up front and it doesn't, but for us it did. If I look at this as a single year, I can say, yes, it's not been a great year, but if I look at this year in a period of the next four or five years, I think we'll be able to look back and say, 'Hey, we made a lot of progress that year that paid off in the second year, that paid off in the third year, that pays off down the road.'"
HAVE ALL THOSE IMPROVEMENTS TAKEN YOU AWAY FROM YOUR JOB OF SIMPLY CONCENTRATING ON DRIVING THE CAR? "Oh, yeah. We've got good people. We've got Robbie and Doug and Chris Hussey and Keith Almond and Rick. But we got down to a year where the Hot Wheels deal had to be renewed, STP didn't know what they were going to do, and I was trying to put Adam's deal together to run another year of Busch. All of a sudden, well, we knew I was going to take more of an active role in the business side of things, but we didn't have any sponsors set for next year. We had three teams in that predicament. We were sitting there with nothing. My guys will tell you, when we were at Indy testing I spent more time on the telephone than I did on the race track. In hindsight, until we got the Hot Wheels deal put to bed and we got Adam's deal put to rest with Spree and we got the General Mills deal, when I went to the shop some days I didn't go to the shop to look at a race car. I went to the shop to make phone calls, have meetings and do business and stuff. I was leaving race tracks on Sunday nights and flying to California or Kansas. That's what I told Doug, 'You know, we haven't really given ourselves a chance to even do well because the large majority of the year I spent doing other stuff.' I think that's taken away from me as a driver and my driving. If I could have concentrated on nothing but driving a race car, or if I drove for another team and that's all I did, I'd be a better driver in 1999 than I am right now. I'll admit it. I think now that we've got our stuff put together, yes, you're always going to worry about that and it's going to affect my driving in some way, shape or form, but I've got to hit that happy medium and say, 'How does it affect it.' Then I go about making it affect it the least amount possible and then go from there."
SO THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT? "We've got our stuff set. There are still going to be changes and there will be changes that come along that you can't anticipate. There are going to be things we want to do in order to regroup. But I think as a whole, for the next three to five years, we've got our course and we've just got to stick to it. Hot Wheels is on board for three more years. Adam's deal is hopefully long term, longer term than anything we've got and then the General Mills deal is three-and-a-half years, with options. We've tried to stagger stuff so we don't get back to one year where we don't have three sponsors again. At least we're staggered."
HOW DID YOUR SECOND HOME BURNING DOWN IN HILTON HEAD, S.C., AFFECT YOU? "That was more of an emotional loss. I think anybody that's gone through that understands that. Little things keep popping up. You say, 'Ahh, I lost my Dover trophy,' or 'I lost my Watkins Glen trophy.' You remember the big stuff first, and then all of a sudden you remember, 'Man, I had a letter from that guy I wanted to save.' I've been watching all these stories about their houses flooding because of the Hurricane Floyd rains. I'd used to watch that stuff and think, 'Yeah, but you can replace that.' But you can't. You'd like to think you're not materialistic and you're not materialistic about the house, it's the emotional ties. Things like the pictures, trophies, little stuff. It's kind of strange. We'd go to the beach after the kids got out of school for the summer. We leave for there in May and stay until September. Anytime I won a race in the summer, I'd take all that stuff back to the beach. All my race stuff from summer races was at the beach. The last two or three races that I've won, even though they've been a long time ago, they were in the summer. All those trophies and pictures were down there. I had a bunch of my Kulwicki stuff down there. I always had a bunch of Kulwicki stuff. I always kept just a bunch of Kulwicki stuff. I was just pretty good friends with him. I had pictures of me and him, just stuff like that. A bunch of that stuff is gone now."
DOVER'S A GOOD TRACK FOR YOU. "Yeah. We were running pretty good there this year and I thought I had a flat tire and I pitted and as soon as I pitted the caution came out and we had trouble the rest of the day. We had a good car, a real good car. I can't ever remember going to Dover and not having a good car or not having a car capable of running in the top-five or 10. That's what we need right now as a team, to go somewhere and finish in the top-five or 10. We're trying to build off something in these last eight races. That's where we're at."
WHAT DO YOU RECALL ABOUT YOUR WIN AT DOVER IN '95? "The race I won at Dover was the most bizarre race. It was one of the most bizarre races NASCAR's ever run. You have to remember and this is what I always remind people of, that was the day they brought in the race tires race morning. We had practice that morning and we qualified like 42nd or 43rd. Then I won the race. It was like the second-furthest anyone had ever come to win a race. You bring in tires race morning, you get in a practice and the guy that wins the race starts almost dead-last. How bizarre a day can it be? When I look back at it, we were pretty good, I just had a terrible qualifying run. When they brought in those tires we were really good. When the race started, everybody else just wasn't good. We just hit on something quick with the new tires that the other teams didn't. Whatever we had just worked with that set of tires. That's just the way it is sometimes."
HARD TO BELIEVE YOU HAVEN'T WON SINCE? "No. What's harder to believe is that we won then. I was with Felix then and we were going to heck in a handbasket at that point in time. We were in a free fall. All of a sudden we won a race and we said, 'How?' That was '95 and then in '97 I started my own deal. We went up there and almost won the race in '97. We got beat on fuel mileage. We ended up running third and led a lot of the race that day. That's what is bizarre, is the times I've run the worst and the years I've run the worst, it seems like I've run the best at Dover. I probably shouldn't have won that race in '95. Looking back, everything just worked. If you go back and look at that day, look at that race, there were so many things that had to fall just right in order for us to win. There have been times when things didn't fall right and we didn't win. Is it hard to believe I haven't won since? No. We were in a free fall in '95, a free fall in '96 and I started my own deal in '97 and have tried to build something back. It surprised me with as good as the Pontiacs ran in '97 and as good as we ran that year I thought we might fall into one, not that we should have won one, but I thought we might fall into one. And then '98 was a bad year. That's why I moved back to Petty Enterprises. I can look back and say since '94 I can't believe I've won a couple of races with as bad as the total picture has been."
YOU LIKE DOVER AND A LOT OF DRIVERS DON'T. IS THAT AN ADVANTAGE FOR YOU? "If you don't like it you're not beat before you get there, but if you don't like it you're apprehensive. That's what it is. I don't like Darlington. I know I struggle when I get to Darlington. I know that right off the top of my head. Therefore, mentally I take myself out of the picture there sometimes. Guys that really don't like Dover take themselves out. The guys that really do like it just like to have fun and you have a good time. When you're relaxed and having fun and you know you're going to run good, then it makes it easier to race. I ran good there the first time I went. A lot of people don't like Bristol, I like Bristol, but I hate Darlington. Most all other places I'm pretty good at. The places I really like to go to, like Dover and Watkins Glen, where I can have fun by driving a race car, then I can run good."