KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Schwan's Home Delivery Dodge Charger) NOTE: Petty will make his 755th career start on Sunday at Martinsville, and it'll be his 51st start at Martinsville. Petty has five top five and 14 top-10 finishes at the .526-mile track....
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Schwan's Home Delivery Dodge Charger)
NOTE: Petty will make his 755th career start on Sunday at Martinsville, and it'll be his 51st start at Martinsville. Petty has five top five and 14 top-10 finishes at the .526-mile track. He finished 18th last Sunday at Bristol and ranks 25th in the series standings.
WHERE IS PETTY ENTERPRISES HEADED? "Hopefully up the ladder, hopefully we're headed up the ladder. The way we look at it, and you've got to go all the way back to Daytona, we felt we went to Daytona better prepared as a team with Bobby and the Cheerios Dodge and the Wells Fargo Charger we had down there. We felt really, really confident going in there and both of us came out with torn up racecars, but we had a good Speedweek and that got our year started off right. We went to California and Vegas and didn't get the finishes we wanted, but we learned some stuff and I think both of us ran a lot better than our finishes were indicative of at those two racetracks. We went to Atlanta and Bobby set the world on fire. It's been a long time since anyone has seen anybody drive the 43 from fourth or fifth position or any position for that matter up to take the lead with a Petty car. That was big for not only us, but our engine program. We ran good. We weren't as good on the short runs as Bobby was, but we were good on long runs. The way the race played out it played into our hands where we were one of the fastest cars on the racetrack the last 30 or 40 laps of the race at Atlanta, and we came home with a top 10. To go to Bristol and back it up, Bobby comes back exactly where he left off in Atlanta. He ran in the top 8-10 most of the day once we got track position and was able to capitalize at the end. It's been a long time since there's been a Petty Enterprises car in the top 10 two weeks in a row. It solidified him back in the top 35 in points (32nd), so it did a lot for us. Morale wise it was big. It's been a big step for us. I think we all knew that Robbie (Loomis) and Bobby and Todd (Parrott), bringing those guys over and kinda reconnecting with Paul Andrews and putting their heads together we would go somewhere. It's beginning to turn a little bit quicker than we thought it would."
DID BRISTOL PERFORMANCE DEFINITELY PUT YOU ON THE RIGHT TRACK? "I'm going to be honest with you and tell you in January when we tested at Daytona we felt we were on the right track. I think from a morale standpoint to show the guys at the shop that this is working for us, I think that's the biggest thing the last four weeks have shown us more than anything else. We've gone to the racetrack, and we've been able to transfer, and I've been saying this to you guys in the media for the last four or five years, I felt extremely confident that we were doing things right away from the racetrack. We just weren't getting it done on the racetrack. We just weren't getting it done when we got to the racetrack. I think that's what Robbie has brought over, a lot of that knowledge. I think that's what Todd has brought over. I think Paul was trying to hammer it in our heads and we just weren't listening to him until this group came over. Then he got some backup. Just everything we're doing we're transferring it to the racetrack. We're not, and I describe it this way, we've moved up the food chain a little bit to middle of the pack and middle to front of the middle pack, but we're not to the front pack yet and we've still got a ways to go. At least we see we're making some progress this year."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RACING AT TEXAS 10 YEARS AFTER? "I don't think you can describe how much better everything has gotten at Texas, all inclusive. It's one of the few places we go still to this day that people in Fort Worth and the people in the surrounding area ask you 'How do you like our track?' They don't say 'How do you like Texas?' When you're from Daytona people say 'How do you like Daytona?' or 'How do you like Charlotte?' Those people consider it their racetrack and they totally embrace that racetrack in their community. I think Eddie (Gossage) and those guys, the first couple of years with some of the issues they had with the track, with those guys stepping up and totally revamping the racetrack it took a lot of courage. It took a lot of guts to go ahead and do that. I give Eddie Gossage and those guys down there a lot of thumbs up for being able to do that, but I think the racing has gotten better. I think everything about the place has gotten better. In a lot of ways it's just like wine. It's aged very, very well. The fans continue to come out and embrace the racetrack. They support everything that goes on down there. I know they had one race and now they've got two. They could almost use three or four it seems like with the amount of fans they have. I just think everything from traffic flow to we've found better restaurants down there through the years as drivers and competitors and stuff like that, better hotels. I just think everything about the place has gotten better."
DOES MARTINSVILLE NEED TO KEEP BOTH RACES? "I think Martinsville's status in this sport should be incredibly secure. I don't know why Martinsville always comes up. I think it always comes up because it's a small market throwback to what racing was 40-50 years ago. I think when you look at it like that that's the reason the name comes up and that's the only reason the name comes up. I think for us, when I look at this sport, I think we're one of the most well-rounded motorsports series in the world. We run half-mile high-banks at Bristol, half-mile flat at Martinsville. You've got a flat mile track at New Hampshire. We've got mile-and-a-half high banks, mile-and-a-half flats, road courses. Like Schrader and Tony and those guys, throw in dirt and we would be the most well rounded. Having said that, I think it's one of the most well-rounded series, and it needs Martinsville to stay that way. I think a lot of times when we look at it, we have become a series, just like any other professional sport, we market race now. All the major NBA and NFL teams are in major markets. Martinsville may not be in a major market, but the TV audience it draws is just as good as some of the other major-market races. Martinsville will throw up numbers that will compare to Chicago or L.A. from a TV numbers standpoint, and you can't disregard TV numbers when you start looking at throwing away racetracks. I just don't think Martinsville is a place that needs to be thrown away. If you look at Bristol and you look at Martinsville, that's four races on a half-mile track. You look at two road courses, that's two road courses. It's kind of like playing golf. If every hole was a Par 4, it wouldn't be fun. You've got to throw in a Par 3 and Par 5 sometimes. Martinsville fits into that category."
WHERE DOES NASCAR NEED TO DRAW THE LINE WITH DRIVER CONFRONTATIONS AFTER A RACE? "That's a really good question. That's tough. Maybe I've been around too long. A lot of you guys probably think I've been around too long, but stuff that happens like that between Jeff (Gordon) and Matt (Kenseth after Bristol race) 20 years ago, that went on every week almost. Somebody was out pointing a finger at somebody and somebody was out pushing somebody. Remember we ran North Wilkesboro and some other short tracks. It was a little bit tough and the intensity was there. People got mad at each other. Darrell Waltrip will tell you today that Richard Petty's got the longest finger in the world when he starts pointing it at you and touches your chest with it. That kind of stuff went on. The difference is there were no TV cameras. The difference is there weren't 160,000 fans sitting in the grandstands. There was more like 35,000 sitting in the grandstands. I think with the increased visibility and with that increased attendance at the racetrack, there has to come some sort of responsibility and some kind of accountability on the participants' part. Look, I've got out and cussed and thrown punches. I'm not throwing rocks at glass houses here. I've been part of that program, but at the same time I think you do have to take into account that this is a very intense sport. This is a sport where you're putting everything on the line every time you go out. You do the best you can. To have that taken away in one fell swoop, emotions are going to be there. Obviously we can't have 43 separate locker rooms and every team goes back to its locker room, but maybe there needs to be something where we're separated a little bit more. I think what happened up there was just tempers, cut and dry. I'm sure if Jeff had an opportunity to go back and think about it on Monday, he wouldn't have done it. I'm sure if Matt had an opportunity to think about it, he wouldn't have walked up to Jeff. That's just the way it is, and you can't turn back time. You can't turn back the hands of time, and I think NASCAR has to look at it and they have to do something. What, I don't know, but they have to address it. They use that one rule, whatever it is, 'actions detrimental to the sport of auto racing' or whatever it is, you'd have to say that was a little bit detrimental because people look at it different. Jeff is a calm guy and Matt is a calm guy, so when two of the calmest guys on the circuit, and something like that happens, maybe they need to look at something. I don't know where the line is or how you draw the line or what to do from that standpoint."
HOW BIG IS IT TO HAVE BOBBY IN THE TOP 35? "It's big obviously, coming from where we came the last three or four years in points with both of our cars. To be able to jump in the top 35, that was a big issue, but I think it's a mindset. I think in the past we've really worried about that top 35. We were looking at the 35th place and trying to maintain it. I think the difference with having Bobby Labonte here, we're not looking at the top 35. We're saying we've got to be in the top 15. We're looking at 15th. We're not looking at 35th. Instead of looking behind us, we're looking in front of us and I think that's the attitude shift that Robbie and Bobby and everybody have brought to this team. I think it's a different way of looking at it. We're not looking at the glass being half empty anymore. We're looking at it being half full. We're not just hanging on by our fingernails. We're looking at crawling our way into the hunt here, so when you take that different approach to it, yeah, it is big for Bobby to be in the top 35. We're more concerned about Bobby and the 43 car at any point in time not making races or not being a part of what's going on because we feel like the run he had this week is just indicative of the runs that team will have and we'll build that car back into a winning car and a championship contender. When you're at the sharp end of the stick you don't worry about the top 35."
DOES IT MATTER TO NASCAR WHO YOU ARE WHEN A CONFRONTATION BREAKS OUT? "It shouldn't, but it does. That's just how simple it is. Sports are a reflection of society. You see it all the time no matter what you're in. A guy gets caught speeding and he walks away because he's famous in the community or he has a famous name and somebody else gets a ticket and they go to court over it. That's just the way it is. At the same time, I don't believe that what went on there, and this is just one man's opinion please, I don't believe that what went on there if you take the entire incident... If you take the bump, the spin, the last lap pass, the stop on pit road, the Kenseth walking over to him, the Jeff push in the chest, if you look at it as a whole I don't think it warrants a suspension. Does it warrant a fine? Maybe. Does it warrant a reprimand? Most definitely, but I don't think that NASCAR needs to overreact. I think if we go back and look at some of the things they've done, NASCAR can be accused of both ways -- of over reacting in some instances that should not have even been acknowledged and of under reacting in other instances. I'm pretty confident. It is a little higher profile with Matt and Jeff. If they look at it and take their time I think they'll make the proper decision. I don't think this would warrant a suspension for anybody. Call it Jimmy Spencer or call it anyone you want to call it, I don't think it would."
WHERE DOES BOBBY LABONTE GET HIS FIRE? "I think the thing for him is the same thing for us. That's why it's such a perfect union between Petty Enterprises and Bobby. I think for so many years people have looked at Petty Enterprises and said, 'This is not a modern Cup team. They're living in the past. This is the way they used to do it. They're never going to get back to the top. They're never going to get back to that point no matter how hard they try.' I think Bobby heard a lot of the same things about himself. Yeah, he had his run at it. Now you've got Tony and J.J. and Denny Hamlin and Gibbs is bringing these younger guys in and maybe it's time for Bobby to step aside. I think he heard the same thing. In our hearts we never believed we couldn't come back and be competitive on some level at some point in time. We knew it wasn't going to be instant, but we felt like we could go back to it. I think Bobby feels the same way. He looks at it and says 'in my mind I was always competitive. I just wasn't getting what I needed, wasn't at a place that I felt I was getting the things I needed.' Bobby came here our promise to him was 'we'll give you everything we've got to make you the best racecar driver you can be today.' That brings Petty Enterprises back up. The 43 is our brand. We say that all the time. The 43 Dodge Charger is our brand. That's who Petty Enterprises is. That's who we are, and that's who we've got to be. That's what we've got to be. You can be motivated two ways. You can be motivated by a pat on the back or you can be motivated by saying 'you guys need to step aside. It's over with.' I think Bobby has looked at it. While we're patting him on the back here, a lot of the public was saying, 'it's over with, it's time to step aside.' Internally, while we were patting ourselves on the back a lot of times, externally we were getting a lot of that in the paper and from the fans. 'You guys need to hang it up and do something different.' I think we've been motivated by the other end of spectrum. I think that's where the fire you see in Bobby comes from. He had something to prove, not to himself, but to other people. I think that's the big desire for him right now."
COMMENT ON RUNNING BACK-TO-BACK SHORT TRACKS "I think it's great to have them back-to-back like that. The only thing I would like better would be if we had a road course in the first five races also. You get the restrictor plates out of the way. You get the short tracks out of the way. You get the mile-and-a-half flat tracks out of the way. You throw a road course in like they used to, they used to start at Riverside before they even went to Daytona. That was the first race of the season, so you got into the swing of racing. I don't have an issue running Martinsville right after you run Bristol. I think that's good. I guess you guys write about it, fans speculate about it, every radio show you turn on, every TV show you turn on, they talk about it -- retaliation. I really don't think there is that type stuff. We'll go to Martinsville and Jeff and Matt will run together. Harvick and Kurt Busch will run together. Will they get into each other? There may be a time when they get into each other. Do you think Jeff Gordon, the great driver he is, or Matt Kenseth, the champion those two drivers are, are going to Martinsville just thinking about taking each other out? No, not at all. It doesn't make any difference if we're running at Martinsville or Talladega or if we run again at Bristol this week. They go up there to win the race. They don't go up there for retaliation. Now, do they forget? No, every one of these guys are elephants. They never forget. They remember every time. Will they give each other room? No, they're not going to give each other an inch. There's no doubt about it. They're going to give each other less this week, but at the same time, they're not going to give anything but I don't believe they're going up there to take anything away from each other, either. That's not in their mind, and I think that's why it's good to go and show how professional these guys are. They're going to go up there and race as hard as they can, and like I said, they're not going to give anything, but they're not going to take away anything."
DOES NASCAR TAKE INTO ACCOUNT WHAT LED UP TO POST-RACE MAYHEM AT BRISTOL? "They should take it into account. Obviously I'm not on that side of the spectrum. I'm on the side that's being judged most of the time, not the side that gets to judge. I don't want to judge anything, but at the same time, I think that's a misconception, and it should be. Just because Jeff Gordon is a champion he gets away with more. I think Jeff Gordon or Matt Kenseth or Tony Stewart or Bobby Labonte or Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt Sr., whoever it may be, I think once you're a champion you should be held to a higher standard, not be able to get off because you are a champion. I think you should be held to a higher standard. That's what I was trying to say when I said, you've got two champions, two of the calmest guys on the racetracks, two of the smartest guys on the racetrack, two of the best thinking drivers to come down the pipe in the last 20 years it seems like between Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth and we're sitting here talking about them in an altercation. I think that has a lot to do and because you have those two drivers, you can't just look at the shoving incident itself. You have to take everything into account. You almost have to take into account what they had for breakfast or if they had a bad night's sleep. You just don't expect it out of those two guys, and that's what I'm trying to say. You just don't expect that type of stuff. I think Jeff should be held to a higher standard. I think Jeff holds himself to a higher standard. I think when he looks back at it, he'll look and say, 'I'm sorry I reacted the way I reacted. I'm still as mad as all getout, but I'm sorry I reacted the way I reacted.' Matt said the same thing. Matt said he probably shouldn't have gone up to him and apologize as soon as the race was over. I'm sure mistakes were made, but something will happen. I'll be incredibly surprised if a fine or something doesn't come out of it, but like I said before, I don't think they should get too severe with it."
DO THE 43 AND 45 TEAMS SHARE INFORMATION? "We've always said we are one team, we just happen to run two cars. That's what we've basically always said. That's how we approach things. When Bobby goes and runs his Dodge Charger and comes back, we get all that information. We go and do our stuff. If you look the last couple of weeks, we've been incredibly close at Atlanta and Bristol. Obviously he got a lot more out of the car than I did at Bristol because he ran fifth and I finished 18th. We were both on the lead lap and that's huge for us. We've run five races this year and if you take Daytona out of the equation, we've been in the lead lap almost every race, and that's a huge accomplishment for us at Petty Enterprises. Obviously we share everything. Todd has done real good to come in here and work with. Working with two-car teams in the past, Todd has been good with that. Paul Andrews was already in that situation working here and working with multi-car teams before. Then we bring in Robbie and we know how the 24 and 48 worked together in the past. I think Robbie brought some of what he had learned at Hendrick and it came together. Then you've got Bobby who's been in a multi-car operation. The days of the single-car team and drivers fighting like they did in the past, that's a thing of the past. Owners aren't going to put up with it. Drivers and crew chiefs aren't going to put up with it, no matter how successful you are. You've got to get along and you've got to share. This is a good group to be working with right now."
COMMENT ON CHARGER WINNING BACK-TO-BACK RACES "I believe this. There's been a lot of comments about the Charger in the beginning and a lot of people running the Intrepid. We ran the Intrepid. Our point out of it was this. We had a real good opportunity with Bobby Labonte coming out of the Chevy camp, with Todd Parrott coming out of the Ford camp, with Robbie Loomis coming out of the Chevy camp, to really get a good feel and a good baseline on what the difference between the Charger and Intrepid was and how the Charger and Intrepid stack up against the Chevy body. Bobby's been our conduit. He's been our link between all that. We ran the car at California and didn't have much success with it. We took it to Atlanta and had a great run going and had an engine malfunction. Still, we felt the Intrepid had some plusses. We've learned some things from the Intrepid that we've transferred over to the Charger. I think Ray and those guys have done the same thing. They've learned some things from the wind tunnels and stuff that they've transferred to the Charger. Look at Kasey's performance at Atlanta and all the Dodges as a whole were really, really good. I think the Dodge Chargers kind of fit that race track. I said it when the race was over with. Atlanta at one point in time was a Ford track. If you had a Ford, you could run pretty good there. For whatever reason, Atlanta for this race with the tire Goodyear brought and our engine package and our engine package was phenomenal at Atlanta. When you look at that package, Atlanta became a Dodge track all of a sudden. All the Dodges I felt like were really good, and the Charger kind of rose to the top at Atlanta when we got there. Then you go to Bristol and Bobby's fifth and Kurt wins, and there's the Charger again. The short tracks are an equalizer a little bit and the aero is not as much of an issue. So what I'm really enthusiastic about at the short tracks is the engine performance. Our Evernham engines have been phenomenal all year. The engine performance is right there with the Chevys and Fords. We'll continue to tweak the Charger and get better and better. Obviously you're the only manufacturer right now that's able to go three-for-three and that would be big for Dodge because it's been awhile. We struggled with the Charger last year, but with one year under your belt I think everybody's got a little bit better with it, a little more tuned to the subtleties of the car. We'll jus continue to get a little better."
HOW MUCH PRESSURE HAS ROBBIE BEEN ABLE TO TAKE OFF YOU? HAS THAT BEEN A HUGE RELIEF TO YOU? "Yes. The answer is a most definite, huge yes. I think the issue, the things that he takes off the table are the day to day stuff. The day-to-day whether it's sitting down and talking to the engineering department about what our next step is or whether it's sitting down with Paul and Todd, he's taken all of that from where we were in the past, and that's huge. Obviously, I've said it before and I've been honest with all you guys, if I could just show up at the racetrack and be a racecar driver, I'd be a better racecar driver than what I am. That's not the lifestyle I have, and that's not what I grew up doing. I grew up doing other stuff like my father and grandfather. That model doesn't work anymore. I think someone like Robbie is huge for me on a personal level. I think it's shown. He's good with Bobby. He's good motivating me. He's good for the guys out in the shop. At the same time, the little stuff that picks at you because you had a slow pit stop and you need to do this or change this on the car or we need to hire somebody, then he handles that. That's been a big plus for us. All you have to do is look at our Schwan's Home Delivery Dodge Charger and look at the way I've run this year. We were good at Atlanta and pretty good at Bristol and California. We felt like we had a good car at California. We just made a mistake there at the end and got caught. Instead of finishing in the top 20, we finished 25th or so, but we've been in contention to have good, solid runs in three or four races. I don't think the Kyle Petty that drove the car last year could have done that without Robbie Loomis being there."