Petty Staying Put

AVONDALE, Ariz. -AVONDALE, Ariz. – With all the talk of driver, sponsor and crew chief changes swirling around the garage area, one guy isn’t going anywhere.

But by looking at his numbers – or lack thereof – maybe he should. Kyle Petty has failed to qualify for 12 races this season, and his best finish is 16th.

But Kyle Petty isn’t going to get fired because his dad is the owner. And nepotism reigns at Petty Enterprises.

“Unless The King steps in and fires me, I’ll be back next year in the 45,” said Petty, who qualified 28th for Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. “My mama says I can still drive, so that’s OK.”

But besides Lynda Petty, there aren’t many who have confidence in Petty’s abilities as a driver. Sure, Petty has had to endure the tragic death of his son, and that has no doubt set him back. Plus, Petty is busy running Petty Enterprises and its three Winston Cup teams, juggling the day-to-day business responsibilities with everything else going on in his life.

“I’m way too busy,” Petty said. “I don’t have time to cut out anything. You’ve got to make hay while you can. In this business or any business, you’ve got to stay on top of it. You’ve got to make as much and do as much as you can while you’ve got an opportunity to.

“Right now, I have an opportunity to drive and do some of the business stuff. At some point in time I’ll have to give one of them up, and it’ll probably be the driving part that I give up long before I give up the business side of it. I’ve got to do as much as I can on both sides now to prepare myself for that and still do this. The business side is fun sometimes.”

But is having a full plate an excuse for his poor runs of 2001? Of course it isn’t. Petty knows he has to get it done behind the wheel, and he hasn’t this season.

“Nothing has shaken my confidence as a driver yet,” Petty said. “We don’t make races, and I can pinpoint 10 different reasons why this didn’t happen or why that didn’t happen. Part of it has been me sometimes, and I’ll admit that. It’s not always been me. When it gets to the point where it’s always me, then I’ll say it’s time to go away. Until it gets to that point, I’m not ready to get out of one yet.”

Petty has been in Winston Cup full-time since 1981, but he’s still fairly young when compared to other drivers. The best years, Petty hopes, are in front of him.

“You can look at some people who were great drivers when they were 25 or 26, and then never did anything else,” Petty said. “You look at other guys like Dale Jarrett who didn’t start winning championships until he was 42 or 43. I’m 41 now. There’s so many different age groups and spectrums, you can’t go by that.”

You can only go by desire, and it appears Petty still wants to win. He wants Petty Enterprises to win, too, and he’s trying to guide the legendary team out of several years of doldrums.

The switch to Dodge was supposed to be the magic elixir to bring Petty Enterprises back to the front of the Winston Cup field, but it hasn’t happened. If anything, it’s made things worse for the three cars. John Andretti, Buckshot Jones and Petty have all qualified for the same race only 16 times this season, including this weekend’s Checker Auto Parts 500K.

And that’s not good enough. Petty has made some changes to the team, aligning the Pettys with an engineering firm in Atlanta, hiring an outside engine builder for the first time in Petty Enterprises history, luring Larry McReynolds to become a consultant for Jones and bringing in a new crew chief for himself.

Steve Lane was hired from Penske Racing to be Petty’s crew chief, and he started his duties this weekend.

“It’s just another change in what we’re trying to do,” Petty said. “We’re trying to hire better people. We feel like we’ve got a bunch of great people working at Petty Enterprises. We’re trying to find people and hire people who have been at the other end of the garage area and have been winning races and understand a little bit more. Maybe there’s something we’re missing.”

Perhaps the biggest change is the engines Petty teams will use next season. They hired Mike Ege, who was chief engine builder of the company that built engines for Robert Yates, to make Petty power.

“The engine deal for next year is a big change, a bigger change than I anticipated,” Petty said. “It’s a big change for us internally because we had always built engines at Petty Enterprises for 50 years. To shut down something you had been in business for that long a period of time, it’s kind of like shutting down your core of business, and that was us.

“We changed that around, and that’s a big deal for us. Now we’ve got to make our cars better, and that’s the whole point of bringing in some of these new guys – for them to bring in fresh ideas and new ideas. Maybe we can make our stuff better.”

And maybe Petty and his drivers will be back up front.

“The three teams and three drivers are set for next season and partial crews are set,” Petty said. “I’m not going to say we won’t continue to change some of the people on some of the crews. I’m not going to say we won’t continue to change some of the people at the shop. We’re going to continue to organize and keep structuring.

“Our drivers seem to be pretty set. John has committed to stay. Buckshot has committed to stay. Our sponsors are all back for next year. Everything’s the same there for the next couple of years. Long term we’re looking pretty good. We’ve just got to get something done short term.”

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