KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Petty finished 12th at Michigan in June in the Sirius Satellite Radio 400. Petty, a 42-year-old driver from Randleman, N.C., ranks 22nd in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings entering Sunday's...
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Petty finished 12th at Michigan in June in the Sirius Satellite Radio 400. Petty, a 42-year-old driver from Randleman, N.C., ranks 22nd in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings entering Sunday's Pepsi 400 at Michigan. He finished 29th yesterday at Watkins Glen in career start No. 631. Petty has eight career poles and eight wins. His last win came at Dover in 1995. CEO of Petty Enterprises in addition to his driving duties, the third-generation driver talks about Michigan, his season, the Dodge program, outlook for the future and why he only wears long sleeve shirts.
"Our car drove really good at Michigan last time. We ran decent all day long, probably from 12th to 20th all day long, and we finished on the high side of where we were running. That was good. We were pretty pleased. I think we're going to take a different car back this time, just because we're experimenting and we're trying to get ready for some stuff next year body wise. I think we need a little more downforce overall. I'm not saying nose. I'm not saying tail. I think our team is OK right now with what our balance is. I think that's a big deal. I think they gave the Chevy more nose right now going into Michigan. I'm not sure I'd want that going into Michigan because sometimes it unbalances the car. Our balance is pretty good. Robin Pemberton has come over and the aero balance on our cars from front to rear is pretty good. Sometimes you can get way too much front and sometimes you can get way too much rear on the cars. Very few people ever complain about having too much front because that's where the aero push takes off. I've heard Elliott complain about too much rear sometimes. Our stuff is pretty balanced, so Michigan likes a balanced race car. We need to have more total downforce.
"I look at Bill like I looked at Earnhardt a couple of years ago. Everybody said Earnhardt should retire, that he's washed up. That was everybody standings on the sidelines. If you were out there racing against him, even if you were racing against him for 15th place, you knew he was racing the wheels off the car. That was the way Elliott was with his stuff. Even though you knew he was out there racing you for 18th or 19th or 11th or whatever, he was the hardest man on the race track to pass. He was still driving. Once he couldn't drive, the equipment just didn't match his ability at that time. Bill will be the first one to say now that he had too many irons in the fire. He was trying to run a team and look after a sponsor and all that stuff. I know from personal experience that can be pretty tough. Some things just fall through the crack. I think for him it did, and part of what fell through the crack was having a competitive race car. Now that he's gone to Ray's he's in a competitive race car, so no, it doesn't surprise you at all that he's doing what he's doing.
"Less than 200 points behind, you're not out of it until the last four or five races and we've got 14 left. Bill has to continue to do what he's doing and everybody in front of him has to have a little bit of trouble. When I say a little bit, I only mean a little bit. If you look at the points, if Bill wins and his competitors finish 15-20 in two or three races, you pick up 50 or 60 points. Every time you do that, you get closer and if you do it enough, boom, you're the leader. That could very well happen. Sterling has kind of faltered here lately, just from bad luck, not from anything he's done. He's not out there running into walls. Jimmie has been real good, but he's still inexperienced at some race tracks, so he shines at some and he doesn't shine as much at the other ones. The other guys up there are going to be tough. Gordon is still there. He's plugging along. Everybody keeps talking about what a bad season he's having and there he is. It would be phenomenal to have him be the first guy to win the title and not win a race, but the way things are going he could do it. When you look at it, there's no doubt that Jeff Gordon is going to win races. Elliott and Sterling have just got to keep running their stuff.
"I don't think New Hampshire was an accident. You look at it and it was a good team (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T with Ward Burton behind the wheel) making good pit calls and good strategy. He might not have had the fastest car on the race track, but it was tough to say who had the fastest car. Nobody got to race with anybody. If you were in the front you could go on. If you were back in the pack you couldn't pass anybody. A good example of that was Earnhardt Jr. who flew early in the race and spun late in the race, went to the very back and passed three cars before the end of the race in the last 25 laps. How does that work? The 22 may have had the fastest car there all day and just never got out front until the end of the race. All the Dodge stuff has become a lot better. Look at how our cars have run this year compared to last year. We're a lot better this year than we were last year, so why wouldn't the group that was in front of us pick it up a notch, too? When you look at where those Dodges were running last year, they were running fifth-15th. Now they're running in the top five and winning races. We're still a little bit off, but the Dodge program overall has gotten a lot better.
"We got real consistent running somewhere between 10th-20th. Right now we've fallen a little bit, but we're consistent 15th-25th. We've only fallen back a little bit. Part of the stuff we're falling back on is we got comfortable where we were running and we started trying stuff. We got off our plan. We were doing basic stuff the first of the year trying to get a foundation, and if you look at it, you get antsy and say you've got to catch up real quick. You start throwing stuff at it and get ahead of yourself. When you get ahead of yourself that's wrong. I think we realized a couple of races ago that we were getting ahead of ourselves and it's going to take us a couple of races to back down to where we were. We're still running pretty good. We felt like it was time for the 45 car to start running consistently 10th-20th. The 43 and 44 struggled at the first of the year, so we had them in the category of running 15th-25th. John Andretti, after we made the crew chief change, has really picked it up and has run somewhere between seventh and eighth to 15th. He hadn't finished there until Watkins Glen (11th), but he has run there. We finished 24th, 25th, 26th at Indy. That's kind of where we started the year. I sat the 45 guys down and told them our job was to score more points the second half of the year than the first half. When you take the first four races of the first half and compare them to the first four races of the second half, and we scored more points the first four races of the second half so we're on schedule of what we need to do. We kind of flattened out and some of these guys have never run a full Winston Cup schedule and that's hard. They're beginning to drag. The intensity you work with the first part of the season is a lot off adrenaline, like having a young driver. They drive the first half of the race off adrenaline and they wake up and realize they're only halfway. They have to regroup and they come on strong at the end.
"I don't have a problem with the schedule, but I do for the team. From a team perspective it's a major problem. People say I wouldn't mind driving 40 weeks in a row. Yeah, but you don't drive from California to Maine, Florida stay in a hotel room and all this other stuff. That's the hard part. These road crews go back to the shop when we get home and do a lot of stuff, too. It's tough on a crew, and that makes it tough on their families. That's why you see so much turnover. I'll bet we have more turnover in this sport than any other industry. I'd like to compare it another industry. There's always guys that show up one year and you'll never see 'em again the next. They're dying to get into it until they get into it. That's part of it.
"We looked at hiring Christian Fittipaldi as the same caliber of move as the Mike Ege Racing Engines and the Robin Pemberton move. He's a driver of that caliber. That's a big step up. We're going to be patient with him and it's going to take time to get him there, but we felt like it was a big move. A lot of people who don't really know Christian or understand where he's been or what his talent is, they just look at it as bringing a driver from open wheel back over here. We looked at it totally different. A lot of people who do know what's going on have called and come up and told us what a big deal it really is. We thought it was a big deal for us, but we thought it was a big deal for NASCAR, too. All of a sudden, you've got an ex Formula One driver and one of CART's draws and you're bringing him over to Winston Cup. That's a big deal. We don't have many Formula One drivers walking around in the garage area getting ready to jump into a Winston Cup car. Not many CART drivers have come over. John Andretti is about the only one.
"When we looked at how Penske had run that program for Ryan Newman and how he spent time with Ryan at different Winston Cup race tracks in different kind of cars, it gave him that little edge. That was a big deal, so we are going to try the same thing. We knew Christian wasn't ready to jump into a full Busch schedule or a full Winston Cup schedule and he really wasn't ready to jump into a full ARCA schedule. Coming out of racing 15 or 16 times a year like the CART series does, then it makes sense to ease him into it. Give him some excitement for going to each race. We don't anticipate any problems with all the sponsorship stuff. I think we're good. Once my deal became public, we probably got five or six calls for my deal. Once Christian's deal went public, we probably got another five or six calls. It's a totally different group of companies. We're pleased with that because now you've got a bunch of deals laying on the table. Not to say any of them are going to come true. Everybody wants to sponsor a Winston Cup car for $400,000.
"I don't have a clue what the money is out there for sponsorships. I read a USA TODAY article where it said some guys were getting $18-$20 million a year and some guys were racing on $6 or $7 million. Let's split the difference, so it probably takes $13 or $14 million. Can you do it on less? Yes, but you'd really have to manage your budget a lot better. Can you do it on $5 or $6 million? Not and be competitive. You're just going to be showing up. You've got to have between $12-$15 million to do it right. You would think it would be cheaper per team with multi-car teams and there are some cost savings, but not as much as you would think. You can save some money on engine stuff, and we thought tires would be cheaper, but they haven't been. Definitely not on travel. You've got three teams and travel triples, no way around it. We've got a pretty good system of building cars and maintaining cars and what we look at when we do stuff, so we don't have a lot of excess parts and stuff. That's been good for us. There is some economy for that.
"I think we're pretty close on John for next year. We gave him room to go exploring to see what he wanted to do, all the time telling him we wanted him to stay with us. I can look at it from a driver's angle and an owner's angle. From an owner's angle, I don't want you to go anywhere. He's been here a long time through a lot of bad times, so we want to keep him. From a driver's standpoint, I understand what it is to look out there and think the grass is always greener. Let me go out there and see what it's like and put my name in the hat. He's been honest about it and said he wouldn't do anything without talking to us, so that's kinda where we're at.
"We've got the names of a couple of people we'd like to go in the 44. Everything was OK, then all of a sudden you're missing a driver, missing a sponsor and now we've found a driver without a sponsor. We've put ourselves in position where we've got to work hard to make two or three things work, but you put yourself in that position. If you don't, you just sit around and get lazy. At least we're out working.
"I got used to wearing long sleeve shirts riding motorcycles. It keeps your arms from getting sunburned, and if you're really riding and sweat it cools you. I've just got used to wearing 'em. Every shirt I've got is long sleeve except T-shirts, and I've got some long sleeve T-shirts. I never pay any attention to it, so I don't guess I get hot."