Long Wait Over For Petree

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TALLADEGA, Ala. – Five long years Andy Petree had waited for this day.

Week after week, disappointment after disappointment, Petree knew some day his hard work, persistence and determination as a Winston Cup team owner would pay off. Sooner or later, one of his drivers would end up in victory lane.

That driver just happened to be Bobby Hamilton. In just his ninth race with the No. 55 Square D Andy Petree Racing team, Hamilton was able to give Petree what five other drivers hadn’t been able to do, taking the checkered flag in Sunday’s Talladega 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Hamilton, who earned his fourth career Winston Cup victory but his first in three years, passed Tony Stewart on the last lap of Sunday’s event.

For Petree, who also owns the No. 33 Chevrolets driven by Joe Nemechek, it was a crowning moment in a dream he started from scratch with former driver Ken Schrader full time in 1997. Robert Pressley drove one race and Todd Bodine three for him in the latter part of 1996 after Petree took over the team ownership role from Leo Jackson.

“What a great day for our company,” Petree said. “I can’t say enough about our whole team. This is unbelievable because we’ve worked so hard. I’m in my fifth year now, and I’m in a dream world.

“Not winning before now has been pretty tough and I’m not a real patient guy. The one thing Bobby Hamilton brought to the table is a confidence level. I felt like we’ve been in a good position to win and that it could have happened anywhere. Now that win has come. I always thought it would, but this is unbelievable.”

Schrader drove three full years for Petree without winning a Winston Cup race. Petree then took on a second team with Kenny Wallace in 1999, but Wallace came up empty for two years.

When Schrader left after the 1999 season, Nemechek stepped into the 33 ride, but that effort has been fruitless, as far as victories go, in 43 races.

So, after 146 races, Petree is finally the man.

Winning is nothing new for Petree, however. As a crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt in the early-to-mid-1990s, he was on top of the racing world. With the No. 3 camp, going to victory lane and winning championships was supposed to happen and did quite often.

But then Petree walked away to chase his dream of being a car owner. It’s ironic his first victory came at Talladega, a place where Earnhardt won 10 times.

“Talladega has been really, really good to me,” Petree said. “I got my first win here in 1988 as a crew chief for Phil Parsons, and I got my first pole with Schrader here. This has really been a good track to me.

“I’ve won at Talladega as a crew chief for Harry Gant and with Earnhardt I don’t know how many times, but this is the sweetest one yet. This means more to me than any win I’ve ever had, and for it to come at Talladega was almost appropriate with all the things that have happened.”

Jimmy Elledge, crew chief of the No. 55 Chevrolet, also achieved his first Winston Cup victory in that capacity Sunday. Elledge is in his third season with APR.

“This was a great day for all of us,” said Elledge, who guided Wallace to a second-place finish, in ironically the exact same car Hamilton drove Sunday, in the fall race at Talladega last season. “I don’t think it’s really all sunk in yet. We’ve had a fair amount of success here in Talladega. When Andy was working with Childress and winning races with Dale Earnhardt, I was on that team also.

“To come here and run second to Earnhardt last year… I almost felt like we won. It was a real neat deal. To come back to Talladega and to win is pretty unbelievable.”

Hamilton’s laid-back demeanor was put on hold Sunday. He choked up a couple of times during the postrace interview.

“This was an emotional victory and pretty special for me,” said Hamilton, who sits fourth in the Winston Cup points standings heading to California this weekend. “Andy was talking about not being very patient, but one thing he has done that’s very unique for an owner is he has let Jimmy Elledge run the place like he’s the one that owns it. I’ve never seen a car owner do that.

“Andy really trusts Jimmy’s judgment. They have their Monday morning meetings and all that, but when you have that kind of confidence in your people, it makes your business go a lot better.”

Thanks to Sunday’s victory at Talladega, business is now booming at Andy Petree Racing. Hamilton’s victory was also the first for Square D in several years as a Winston Cup sponsor.

“For somebody to be brave enough to start their own team like Andy did, that’s like a riverboat gambler to me,” Hamilton said. “Then to turn around and be able to win in such a short time, that says a lot about Andy Petree.”

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