BUSCH: CHAMPCAR/CART: Christian Fittipaldi moves to NASCAR 2003

BUSCH: CHAMPCAR/CART: Christian Fittipaldi moves to NASCAR 2003
Aug 8, 2002, 12:40 AM

Kyle Petty (CEO Petty Enterprises) announced Wednesday that 31-year-old CART driver Christian Fittipaldi would drive a Petty Enterprises Dodge Intrepid R/T next season in Busch Grand National and Winston Cup events and compete full time in Winston ...

Kyle Petty (CEO Petty Enterprises) announced Wednesday that 31-year-old CART driver Christian Fittipaldi would drive a Petty Enterprises Dodge Intrepid R/T next season in Busch Grand National and Winston Cup events and compete full time in Winston Cup in 2004.

"We are extremely excited about this announcement, not only four ourselves but for Dodge and NASCAR. We feel that signing Christian Fittipaldi is a huge blessing for Petty Enterprises. Our plan is to run Christian in Busch and Winston Cup and possible ARCA races, much like the program those guys put together for Ryan Newman last year. We look at Christian as being a huge asset for what we're doing at Petty Enterprises. From what he can do in the market place and his marketability at this point, we look at this as another major step in our building process. Our engineering, to Mike Ege to Robin Pemberton and now to a driver the caliber of Christian Fittipaldi is a step in that direction.

"We felt like this was another young talent that was coming along and another young talent that hasn't been in the NASCAR mix yet. Right now we're obviously still looking for a sponsor for the 45 car. We feel confident that we've got some great leads on that. We're going to have to take a long look and see where we're at. We just saw this as a great opportunity to hire a driver. Right now we've just got to weigh all our options and see where we're at.

"It kinda goes back to the process my father used when I first started racing back in '79 and '80. If I wanted to be a Winston Cup driver, I needed to be running at a Winston Cup track. I think that's what the Penske organization did with Ryan Newman. Whether it be Busch or ARCA, Ryan Newman was racing on a Winston Cup track. They prepared their driver to be a Winston Cup driver by running those tracks. It's better for him (Christian) to run the Daytonas and Rockinghams and Atlantas, places like that.

"Christian ran at Homestead last year and a couple of weeks ago he ran at St. Louis. We tested with Christian and we made the majority of our decisions after we tested with him. We went to Lakeland earlier, right around Daytona time this year. Christian has a good feel for the car, gives good feedback to the crew and good feedback to the crew chief. Robin was incredibly impressed with him. We all were impressed with him. I think what we all feel Christian needs more than anything else is to be behind the wheel in racing situations.

"In 2004, Christian will run for the Winston Cup championship. In 2003, we're not running for any championships. We're running for vvexperience. We're running a combination and they don't necessarily have to be companion events. If the ARCA cars and Busch cars are running at Michigan, and we're running somewhere else, then that's where he's running. Anything that will make us better we're definitely interested in. We felt like when Carlos came along with the Hot Wheels program and Mattel program, we looked at that as a definite plus, and it's been a good program for us. It hasn't progressed at the rate we wanted it to, but it's been a good program for us the last couple of years. When Christian comes along, it'll be a totally different level. He's coming from CART where he's won races and has been competitive in CART. I don't know the last time a Formula One driver jumped in a Winston Cup car.

"Our deal with Christian right now is we're looking for a brand new deal. We're actively looking for two primary sponsors basically. We feel like my deal is pretty much down the road. We're pretty excited about what we've got working for the 45 car. We should have an announcement on that within the next 30-60 days, but we are looking for a primary sponsor for Christian's deal. We're excited about it because we think it's marketing opportunities we haven't had. We're not going to rob one team to make another one happen.

"If you've been around our organization, you know that personality becomes a huge factor in what we try to do. Christian fits the mold as what we see being a Petty Enterprises driver. His family goals, his family orientation, the tradition he has behind him. I think in every shape and form he matches what we want at Petty Enterprises, and that's a blessing. To get an opportunity to have him, we couldn't pass it up.

"We couldn't be doing anything we're doing at Petty Enterprises without Dodge. From Mike Ege to Robin Pemberton to Christian Fittipaldi, we have to have the back to come in to be able to do this. I think Dodge is a major player. We talked to them about what we were about to do. What goes on among all the Dodge teams is important to Dodge, but they don't run any of the teams. They give us guidance and they give us support when we need it. We took a lot of Dodge's advice on this hire.

"All I know is that I'm going to be in one of my cars. That was my statement then and that's my statement now. I'm going to be in one of my cars. I think everybody knows that our goal and our future was we were building a team for Adam. When that changed, we had to regroup and we had to stay focused on building the team. We had to refocus on the future, and I think Christian is the future. It makes it possible for me to be where I want to be as a driver and an owner, to have a great driver like Christian driving for you.

"I think Robin was a major factor. I wouldn't even attempt to downplay that because I think that has been a huge factor for us in a number of ways. The first thing we did was sign with Dodge. That was the biggest thing we did. Once we signed with them and the technology was there, we had to go ask for it. The problem was we didn't know what to go ask for. We worked on aerodynamic development. We learned what to ask for. We did the Mike Ege Racing Engines, which was formerly Robert Yates Engine Manufacturing and then with Robin coming on completed it. We had been looking for someone to go in that position. Robin jumps on board and instantly we started getting phone calls from other teams, from people who wanted to come to work for us at Petty Enterprises because they knew then we were headed in the right direction. I think Robin turned some heads and got people looking at Petty Enterprises. We've been able to make some key hires that people don't know about, people that are really important to make the team work. With Christian, I think that will bring more people, and hopefully it'll bring people from other forms of racing, hopefully mechanics from CART or open wheel racing. We'll start getting phone calls from those guys and start hiring more people.

"We were extremely excited when we had an opportunity to get Jerry (Nadeau) to drive for us the rest of the year. I've said it before, and Jerry has been incredibly straight up and honest about it and I appreciate that more than a lot of people will ever know. We had an opportunity to pick him up for the rest of this year and we talked to him about what his future was, where he wanted to be in Winston Cup racing. He already had at least two deals working that he was extremely excited about. He felt extremely confident about it in 2003. He said if something changes and you guys have an opening, I'd be interested in talking to you. We've left that door open, but right now as far as Jerry has let us know, and we've talked to him as recently as last Saturday before the Brickyard, he's still pretty excited about his opportunities somewhere else for next year, but we're excited to have him driving one of our cars right now.

"He (John Andretti) is still weighing his options to be honest with you. We've told him and we've expressed interest that we want him. He's had some options. I talked to him and his father last weekend at Indianapolis, and he's still leaning our way. I'd say we'd be remiss if we let John just go on down the highway. We don't want John to go on down the highway. We want John to drive for Petty Enterprises. We feel like he's a part of our family. He's been here for some time. I understand what it is from a driver's standpoint to have offers extended to you. It makes you feel good about yourself and you've got to look at 'em, so that's what he's doing right now. We've talked to other drivers and we've had other drivers talk to us We'll continue that process. When Elliott Sadler made his announcement earlier in the year, it kind of tilted the whole driver's circuit a little bit and you've got the Ricky Rudd issue, Bobby Hamilton and three or four other drivers who haven't been named. There are drivers out there right now. We've got our name in a lot of places."

CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI (Petty Enterprises Dodge Intrepid R/T driver for 2003) "I'm happy to be with Petty and Dodge. I think they both have a great, solid program. It's definitely a great team, and Petty Enterprises has been in the sport for such a long time. I think it just feel together, and I'm very happy I have a chance to race for Petty and Dodge. Stock car racing is a little bit different from what I do, so we're going to break into the whole program and I think that will be very good for me. Petty isn't going to throw me into the first race at Daytona and say go out there and fight the big lion. We have to sit down and see exactly which races we want to run, either in Busch or Cup. I still have half of a season in front of me. I want to finish everything as well as possible. I am going to be in a Petty car testing here and there and getting ready for 2003."

JIM JULOW (Dodge Vice President of Motorsports and SRT Marketing) "When we got back into NASCAR truck racing a few years ago, the first team we called was Petty's. Richard was gracious enough to make the announcement. When we decided to get back into Winston Cup racing a few years ago, the very first phone call was to Petty Enterprises. Kyle was gracious enough to show up at Daytona and announce that. We've got a long history for decades, but more importantly a very good history in the last several years with Petty Enterprises. I couldn't be happier with the way things are going here. This is just not a great opportunity for Christian as a driver, but we've also got Robin Pemberton and the engine deal and we really like the way things are over there. We got to spend an hour with Christian last Saturday in Indianapolis in Kyle's trailer, and I tell you, he's a great guy. He probably doesn't like to hear this, but he reminds me so much of his uncle. I had a chance to work with him a few years ago, but I think Christian is going to be a tremendous personality for Winston Cup racing. We can use him for our own marketing efforts and our own PR efforts. We're certainly going to try to do something."


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