KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Petty, a 41-year-old driver from Randleman, N.C., has moved from 38th to a share of 21st place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings in the past seven races. Petty has an average finish of 15.58...
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Petty, a 41-year-old driver from Randleman, N.C., has moved from 38th to a share of 21st place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings in the past seven races. Petty has an average finish of 15.58 in those seven races. Petty will make career start No. 620 on Saturday night at Richmond. He's won eight races and eight poles in his career. A former winner at Richmond, Petty has 40 career starts at Richmond with three top fives and 12 top 10s. He won there in 1986 driving for the Wood Brothers and recalls being a little disappointed with the victory.
"I was running fifth when Dale and Darrell tangled in turn three. Geoff Bodine was third and Joe Ruttman was fourth. Geoff had trouble in turn three and Ruttman had trouble in turn four and we ended up winning the race. We were a little upset because we had the 21 car (Petty) in the pool to finish fifth and we were going to win the pool. Instead, we ended up winning the race, so I guess that was a pretty good consolation prize.
"I like to race at Richmond. The race we won was on the old track, and we haven't done that well on the new track. We ran good the second race up there last year. We ran in the top 15 most of the night, and that was probably the first time we even saw the leaders in the past two and a half years. Steve Grissom tested the 44 car up there last week and had a good test. Robin Pemberton went up there and we think we're going to be in good shape for the race.
"In fact, we're pumped up about it. You need the right chassis and aero for Richmond and you need a decent motor. You don't need 900 hp. You just need to get off the corners straight. It doesn't matter how much engine you have if you can't come off the corners straight. Steve Lane (crew chief) has done a great job this year with the chassis. Our engines are better this season and that affects how the car handles. When the 44 tested up there, we used an old engine from last year. We weren't that fast, but the car drove good and our test speeds were competitive.
"Steve does a good job testing. He can help tell us about the springs and shocks and we're able to work on the total package. Steve brings a lot to the table for us because he can go test and we can all benefit more from it.
"I guess it's incredible when anyone moves from 38th to 21st in the standings in seven races, but it's even more incredible when we do it. How many times have you seen someone like Jeff Gordon fall out of the race at Daytona and be leading the standings after 10 races? We're doing a lot better than we were at this time last year. We'd already missed three or four races. To be just a year removed from that and to climb back like we have is a real tribute to the team. I'd say the drive has contributed a little, but very little. It's been a group effort. All the guys that work at Petty Enterprises, from the fab shop to the engine room, have been working hard, trying to make all three teams better. Mike Ege's engines have been a big plus for us. Robin has been overseeing everything and taking a lot of pressure off me. Steve Lane has been working great with the 45 car. It feels different going to the track now. You know you have a shot at running good. You're going to be competitive, you're going to be able to pass cars. Last year we were just a car to be passed and so were the 43 and 44.
"I think we can win with all of our cars, but we can't win consistently and that's what you've got to keep working toward. We're not a Gibbs team or a Hendrick team or a Roush team or a Ganassi team. It's going to take time for us to get like that. It's kind of like the Yankees in the 20s and 30s. They ran on some hard times but eventually you knew they would be back again and dominate and they have. It's hard for a race team to get back to where it can win consistently, but that's what we're building toward. We're just on the tip of the iceberg with it right now.
"In a perfect world, if NASCAR never changed the rules, would it take us five years to come back? No. But NASCAR will alter the rules and we know that. We've got to be adjustable and you can't put a time limit on that. We're consistently now in the 15th-25th zone. By the end of the year, we want to pick that up. It's almost like Emeril on the cooking show - Bam! We want to kick it up a notch. You can't go from 25th to winning on a competitive basis, but when you go from 25th to the top 10, then you have a shot to win if everything goes right. We're not in the top 10 yet on a consistent basis, but we're not that far away. We're a big ship now with three teams. The engineering and aero and everything else have to work together. It's a slow, methodical process.
"In the old days, you could get there with sheer determination and hard work. The second time around, you can't do it that way. You've got to lay the groundwork and stick to your game plan. Look at the Ganassi team and Sterling.
"There was never a doubt in my mind that Sterling could drive a race car. There might have been a question about some of the cars he was in. Sterling finally got with the right group of people and he's comfortable over there working with Tony Glover. The whole team is geared up for running for the championship. Dodge is dedicated to helping him run for the championship. Sterling just got in the right place at the right time with the right team and he's taking advantage of everyone's talent over there. He's got everything on his side and the sun is shining on him now. You've got to make hay while the sun shines. Things have to continue to go his way, and if they can't win, they have to salvage the best finish they can out of it. That's where they're good right now. If they can't win, they get a top five. If they can't get a top five, they work on a top 10, and he's been in the top 10 most of the time this year. That's why he has such a big lead right now. A few teams will make a run at him, but if he keeps up the pace he's on now, he's going to be hard to beat. Sterling's team finished strong last year, and if they can finish that way this year, it's going to be interesting to see who, if anyone, is able to make a run at him. I'd say the Ganassi team is really in the driver's seat right now, and Sterling is doing a great job in his Dodge. We've got to get our Dodges up to that level, but it's not going to happen overnight. However, I think we are headed in the right direction."