Imedia Tour 2001:/I Day 5 Notebook

CHARLOTTE – During Friday’s final day of the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour, Kyle Petty said Petty Enterprises’ decision to switch manufacturers from Pontiac to Dodge following the 2000 season was done for one simple reason – to help pave the way toward a bright future for his son, Adam.

Tragically, however, Adam lost his life in a practice accident for a Busch Series race at New Hampshire International Speedway last year.

Kyle finished the 2000 season by moving from his No. 44 Winston Cup car into Adam's Busch Series Chevrolet. While the Petty Enterprises operation closed out the year with John Andretti and Steve Grissom as its Winston Cup drivers, the stage had already been set to provide Adam Petty with the best car available.

“The whole idea of us going to Dodge was for Adam,” Kyle said. “We tried to position Adam to be able to race a Dodge just like my dad (Richard) for so long. We also looked at the technology as something that would help all three of our teams. It will take us a while to get everything going the way we wanted it. So, I did all this in my heart and mind for Adam.”

Kyle admitted once he moved over to the Busch Series, Andretti had to bear the brunt of the woes suffered by Petty Enterprises’ teams, and apologized to Andretti for that. But switching to Dodge, Kyle said, was the best thing that could have ever happened to the organization.

“We’re looking toward the future here at Petty Enterprises,” Kyle said. “With the Dodge family team of drivers, we’re excited and are very optimistic. But like with anything that’s new, there are going to be some stumbling blocks. We’re not going to win a championship this year, but we can lay the foundation for the future. We have a lot riding on this so it’s going to take a while.”

CONTRERAS GETS RIDE: Carlos Contreras, one of the top rookies in the Craftsman Truck Series a year ago, has hooked up with Petty Enterprises. It was announced that the native of Mexico City would be the driver of the No. 43 Hot Wheels Dodge, beginning this season.

Howard Comstock, crew chief for the No. 43 Dodge, said he’s looking forward to working with Contreras and believes Contreras can make a big splash in the NCTS this season.

“I’m excited because in some of the races last year you could just see that Carlos was an up-and-coming driver,” Comstock said. “We feel like he really has the talent, and what he needed was direction. We’ve got a lot of good equipment here and the engines are real good, so we’re going to be pretty good. That will help Carlos get what he needs to prove how good he really is.”

STILL NO WORD: In a Friday morning press conference, Winston Cup team owner Chip Ganassi said he was still a few days away from naming the new driver of his No. 01 Dodge for the upcoming season. The speculation heading into Friday was that Ganassi would finally name a driver, but the CART Series mogul was stoic and aloof about when the announcement would come and whom it would be.

“There are a lot of guys out there, so I don't feel a pressing need to select a driver,” Ganassi said. “Right now it’s all a matter of finding the right driver for our team.”

The No. 01 car was driven last year by the late Kenny Irwin, who died as a result of head injuries suffered in a summer practice crash at New Hampshire. It has already been announced that Jason Leffler, who just completed his rookie season in the Busch Series in 2000, has signed a three-year contract to drive the No. 01 Dodge, beginning in 2002.

NEW CREW CHIEFS: Ganassi also announced Friday the hiring of two new crew chiefs for his race teams. Kevin Cram, who worked with Bill Elliott last year at Ford, is moving to Dodge to make the calls in the pits for the No. 01 car. In addition, Lee McCall has been named as the crew chief for Sterling Marlin’s No. 40 Coors Light Intrepid.

Since 1995, McCall has held the position of chief mechanic for Penske-Kranefuss Racing and driver Jeremy Mayfield. Prior to joining Penske-Kranefuss, McCall served as mechanic and tire changer for KEL Racing and driver Jason Keller in the Busch Series.

Cram previously worked as an assistant crew chief to Fred Graves on Ron Hornaday’s NCTS entry. He was also the crew chief for Stacy Compton’s NCTS ride at Impact Motorsports.

NEW SPONSOR: Officials with Melling Racing announced Friday the addition of a new associate sponsor – safety-product manufacturer Autoliv ASP – for the 2001 season. Autoliv ASP joins primary sponsor Kodiak on the No. 92 Dodge for sophomore driver Stacy Compton. Autoliv ASP is the world’s largest maker of seat belts and airbags for street cars.

NO SHOWS: The final stop of the media tour was Evernham Motorsports in Statesville, N.C., but there were two notable absentees – Bill Elliott and Casey Atwood. Both of Evernham’s drivers had very good excuses.

Elliott was back in Dawsonville, Ga., Friday, serving as pallbearer for his aunt’s funeral. Atwood was in Beverly Hills, Calif., for the NASCAR Busch Series banquet. He finished eighth in last year’s points standings.

Neither of the team’s two crew chiefs were present, either. Both Mike Ford, crew chief for Elliott’s No. 9 Dodge, and Patrick Donahue, crew chief for Atwood’s No. 19 Intrepid, were at the wind tunnel in Detroit. The team will head to Daytona for Dodge testing on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’M FUNNY?: As teammates, Atwood and Elliott may seem like an odd pair. Elliott is the experienced veteran, very serious and focused; while the 20-year-old Atwood has been characterized as a wildcard.

Team owner Ray Evernham, however, said the two are a perfect fit for each other.

“If nothing else, Casey is entertainment for Bill,” Evernham said. “It’s like having Mutt and Jeff around. Casey will say something off the wall, and then Bill will turn around and ask me, ‘What did he just say?’ Those two together are really crazy.

“I’ll tell you this, Bill has really gone out of his way to become a teacher and a mentor to Casey. And Casey has really been a good student. They’re having a great time together.”

DEW CREW: When Atwood makes a pit stop this year, his tires won’t be changed by any ordinary crew – they’ll be changed by the “Dew Crew.”

The Pepsi-Cola Company, makers of Mountain Dew, announced a new agreement with Evernham Motorsports to sponsor the over-the-wall crew of Atwood’s No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid in 2001. The group will be known as the “Dew Crew.”

Mountain Dew is also picking up an associate sponsorship role of Atwood’s Dodge, which makes its Winston Cup debut in February at the Daytona 500. The car will adorn a Mountain Dew-branded paint scheme for one race in 2001.

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