Petty prepares for Speedweeks with Rolex 24-hour run. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 30, 2003) -- In what amounts to a long distance warm-up for the Daytona 500, NASCAR competitors are getting in some extra laps during this weekend's Rolex 24 at ...
Petty prepares for Speedweeks with Rolex 24-hour run.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 30, 2003) -- In what amounts to a long distance warm-up for the Daytona 500, NASCAR competitors are getting in some extra laps during this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona. Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia Pacific / Brawny Dodge) and Derrike Cope (No. 37 Friendly's Chevrolet) are entered in the endurance event, along with Kevin Lepage, Rick Carelli and Lance Norick.
Petty, 42, is making his third consecutive appearance in the race. He returns with the Orbit Racing No. 43 Porsche GT team with co-drivers Peter Barron, Leo Hindery and Marc Lieb.
"I'm not sure how this prepares me," Petty said. "But the main thing is, you get a race under your belt before you start the biggest race of our season, the Daytona 500. We've got the Budweiser Shootout, the Gatorade Twin 125's, but they're all like sprint races. [Racing for] 24 hours gets you mentally prepared for the Winston Cup schedule. It gets you back and focused on being a race car driver."
Like every NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver, Daytona International Speedway holds a special place in Petty's heart. Arriving a week early to participate in this event is a welcome start to the 2003 season.
"No matter how long you race, you still get butterflies and you're still excited to come to Daytona, in February for the 500. I think this calms the butterflies for me, and lets me say 'relax, this is a lot of fun'."
Petty brings a revitalized NASCAR Winston Cup team to Daytona and hopes to continue the improvements they have experienced over the past few seasons.
"Our Winston Cup team has gotten better and better," Petty said. "We switched to the Dodge program in 2001 and we struggled. We struggled with the Cheerios Dodge, we struggled with the Sprint Dodge and we struggled with the Georgia Pacific Dodge."
In 2001, Petty finished 43rd in the point standings, posted an average finish of 31.1 and mustered season-best finishes of 16th at Daytona and Homestead. Last season, Petty improved to 22nd in the point standings and recorded an average finish of 22.1 including a top-10 finish at Talladega.
Petty credits several factors for his team's turnaround, noting that a scaled-back, two-car operation will prove beneficial in the long term.
"I don't think we realized how far we had really fallen. Back in 2001 when we started [with Dodge] I don't think we realized how far behind we were. We played 'catch up' for two years," Petty said.
"Last year, we seemed to hit our stride with the Sprint Dodge. This year, the Georgia Pacific team becomes the 45 team, and that's a change for us. We're down to two cars this year. We've come a long way in two years," Petty said. "We've been able to concentrate, and focus more on racing than a lot of the peripheral stuff."
During NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona, Petty posted the fastest lap during the January 16 test session, a small victory for the once-troubled organization.
"We were a good top-five to top-eight car that day. We put down a good lap early in the morning and the conditions were just right for it. There were a lot of fast cars in that second test, when the day was over we were just fortunate. That was good for our team. We haven't had a lot to hang our hat on over the last couple of years. To come to Daytona and leave here in the top five; the guys in the shop were walking a bit taller when we got back."
Petty's fast lap of 183.733 mph places him among the favorites in Bud Pole qualifying for the Daytona 500, which takes place Feb. 9.
"We feel like we've got a legitimate shot at being a pole contender with both of our cars,' Petty said. "If we're somewhere in the top ten we'll be happy, but we're really shooting for a pole."