As soon as Dodge announced its plans to return to the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit in 2001, the rumors about Petty Enterprises' potential involvement began to surface.

Those reports apparently had a foundation in fact. The latest stories indicate that Petty Enterprises has already signed a deal with Chrysler. The formal announcement probably will be made at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 11. A version of the NASCAR Dodge Intrepid is expected to be unveiled during the Detroit show.

Dodge is the Official Vehicle of the Skip Barber Racing School and supplies the power plants for the Barber Dodge Pro Series and Formula Dodge Race Series race cars.

The return of Dodge ends Chrysler's 14-year absence from stock car racing, where it won the NASCAR Manufacturer's Championship in 1970 and '75. Dodge has already collected 160 victories, most of them coming with drivers Lee and Richard Petty, Buddy Baker and David Pearson.

Chrysler's plans for 2001 call for two Dodge teams with a total of five cars. One of the teams will be owned and managed by former Hendricks Motorsports team manager Ray Evernham. Petty Enterprises currently fields cars for John Andretti, and Kyle Petty. Adam Petty, Kyle's son, is scheduled to run five Winston Cup races next season.

Petty Enterprises already runs Dodge Ram trucks in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and has hired ex-Winston Cup driver Steve Grissom to drive for the team. Grissom will he heavily involved in testing the 2001 Intrepids between his truck duties.

- Roy Hasty Skip Barber