PE2 finally prepared for Speedweeks Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 2, 1998) At this time a year ago, Bobby Kennedy was an exhausted and nervous man. And the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season hadn't yet begun....
PE2 finally prepared for Speedweeks
Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online
CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 2, 1998) At this time a year ago, Bobby Kennedy was an exhausted and nervous man. And the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season hadn't yet begun.
Overworked and trying to help prepare speedway cars for Speedweeks 1997 at Daytona International Speedway for the newly-established PE2 team of Kyle Petty, the No. 44 Hot Wheels crew chief wasn't getting much sleep. And during waking hours, when he wasn't working on the cars, he was continually racking his brain to come up with ways to make brand new cars more competitive.
Kennedy is happy those days are over. While he's still working diligently to prepare the team for Speedweeks 1998, he and the other members of the Hot Wheels team have been able to breathe a bit easier these days coming off a moderately successful 1997 campaign. Things have fallen into place, and the outlook is much brighter for the PE2 organization heading into this season.
"Yeah, things are a whole lot easier now than what they were a year ago," Kennedy said. "At this time last year, we were scrambling, and we were all pretty tired. We only had two cars going to the (Daytona International) Speedway, and we weren't as prepared as we would have liked to have been because of the time factor. This year, we're much more prepared.
"The guys are a lot fresher because they're not all working 100 hours a week to get everything ready, and that's a bonus. Plus, the Pontiac is a much more proven race car than it was at this time last year, so that gives us even that much more confidence heading down to Daytona. We're all pretty excited about it."
Despite the time factor, Petty's team finished a respectable 14th in last year's Daytona 500. 1997 was a season full of peaks and valleys for the team, but it wound up finishing 15th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings.
That can partly be attributed to familiarity between the driver and the crew chief. Petty and Kennedy worked together when both were at Team SABCO in 1995 and 1996. Petty had his most successful seasons with owner Felix Sabates.
Kennedy, however, sees the team's success as a tribute to Petty himself, whom many people around the NASCAR Winston Cup circle had given up on as a competitive race car driver.
"Oh yeah, there was a lot of people who had just written him off, just tossed him aside," Kennedy said of Petty. "They said that Kyle Petty just didn't have it anymore, and that he might as well get out of the race car. Well, those people were wrong -- dead wrong.
"I think Kyle showed last year, with a first-year team, mind you, that he's still got what it takes to drive and to be a top contender in Winston Cup. We took a brand new team and finished 15th in the points, and that's a pretty good accomplishment. I think a lot of people that wrote Kyle off are now eating their words."
The team managed two top-5 five finishes, both at Dover Downs International Speedway, and put itself into the top-10 eight times.
Petty's last victory came at Dover in June of 1995, some 82 races ago. More often than not during that stretch, while driving for both Team SABCO and PE2, he has been nowhere to be found in the front of the pack. He says that should change in 1998. "You've got to keep putting yourself in the right place, and last year, we were only in a position to win maybe once or twice in 30-some-odd races," Petty said. "This year, if we can put ourselves in a position to win four or five times, then hey, maybe we can win a race or two. The 24 (Jeff Gordon), the 88 (Dale Jarrett) and the 6 (Mark Martin), they were in a position to win every week. That's the type of consistency that we're building toward. The main thing we need to do is just be more competitive at the race tracks." "I think we're carrying a lot of momentum into Daytona and into this year," Kennedy said. "We overcame a lot of problems last year, but we still weren't completely satisfied with a lot of things that happened. We feel we've got what it takes to be a top-10 team and to put ourselves into position to win races. Now we've just got to do the things to make that happen." Both Kennedy and Petty believe they can do just that, especially since their Pontiac has made great strides in performance and respect on the race track over the last season. Pontiac drivers, in fact, won two of the last three NASCAR Winston Cup Series races in 1997, and that has given all the Pontiac teams a reason to be confident heading into 1998.
"We're real happy with the car right now," Kennedy said. "Last year at this time, there were a lot of unknowns, but we've got some of the concessions that we've needed to be competitive, and we've become competitive. It should be a very good year."
"The Pontiac is a competitive car now, and a lot of people are looking at it as the car to beat," Petty said. "We'll have to wait and see, but we like what we've seen from it."