Improvements Arent Petty

The renovation of Petty Enterprises is nearly complete, and now it’s putup-or-shutup time at NASCAR Winston Cup’s most successful teams.

Robin Pemberton is the latest addition to Petty Enterprises, which has made several changes and additions to its team since the middle of 2001. That season was atrocious for the Pettys, and many wondered whether the team would ever be as strong as it once was.

But team leader Kyle Petty, who took over as CEO of the company from his father, Richard, decided to dig into his pockets and hire some outside sources to try to improve the team.

First came an association with an engineering/aerodynamic company. Then came the addition of one of the top engine builders in the business. Next came a new crew chief for Petty and a new technical director for the team.

Finally, the experienced and knowledgeable Pemberton landed in the Pettys’ lap. Now, it’s time for Petty, John Andretti and Buckshot Jones to race – and win.

“We’ll go through a transition period,” Petty said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. (Pemberton) just picks up in our five-year plan. We had a plan on what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go.”

They’re trying to go faster, and Pemberton should help. He’s won 23 Winston Cup races in his career, and most recently was crew chief for Rusty Wallace. Pemberton will take a lot of the burden off Petty, who has had his hands full trying to run Petty Enterprises and drive competitively.

“When we brought Robin Pemberton in, we explained to everybody at Petty Enterprises that he’s not taking anyone’s job,” Petty said. “He’s taking my job. In the past year or two years, I’ve had to do a multitude of things at Petty Enterprises, plus drive a race car. Robin’s first mission will be to take some of the stuff off me so I can go back to driving the race car.”

Pemberton will be Petty Enterprises’ vice president/general manager, meaning he’ll have a lot to do with the race cars but little to do with race-day strategy. And that’s just what he wants.

Pemberton got tired of the long stretches on the road, and he was looking for something more home-based. A former employee in Level Cross, Petty Enterprises was darn near perfect.

“There’s a lot of potential at Petty Enterprises,” Pemberton said. “I hadn’t been there in 18 years, and as I walked around looking, a lot of things have changed. There’s a lot of effort going forward. I liked what I saw and I like the potential. Kyle and I have been good friends for a long time, too.

“Some other teams had talked to me, and I had some other things that I was looking at. If this thing can get back on track and everybody can get focused, I’d like to be a part of it. We need a lot of work. Everybody is ready to win. I think John Andretti is good. Buckshot is awful young, and Kyle is ready to get back and get focused and get after it. A lot of things have to happen before we’re ready to win.

“They’ve got good business people there. I hope I can give Kyle an opportunity to do what he likes, and that’s drive a race car. I hope he doesn’t worry about the shop as much.”

Pemberton should be able to improve the cars, and there’s a good chance Mike Ege will improve the engines. Ege ran Robert Yates’ engine shop, but started his own company for the Pettys.

“We’ve taken a group that’s used to building Ford engines, and we’re asking them to build Dodge engines,” Petty said. “Now you’re asking them to cut the number of Dodge engines they’re going to build because they’re only going to build one per weekend and not multiples per weekend. It’ll create a little bit of a problem, but when you deal with an engine group the caliber of Mike Ege and Steve Allen, coming out of the Yates organization, I think they’ll come out of the gate pretty quick.

“Right now, the stuff we’re testing is our old stuff. We took them all of our old stuff and had them freshen it up. We’ve done a couple of tests this year, but if we’re fortunate we may run some of the new stuff at Las Vegas. Daytona will be the first time we race it.”

The three Petty cars weren’t among the fastest cars in testing the last couple of weeks, but Petty Enterprises does have a long way to go. Petty said the team is making improvements, however painfully slow they may be.

In the Pettys’ first year with the Dodge Intrepid, Andretti finished 31st in the points standings, Jones 41st and Petty 43rd. Between them, they failed to qualify for 19 races.

“Not by any stretch were we ready to win as a group last year,” Petty said. “This year, are we starting out in a position where we’re ready to win? Probably not. We’re going to have to build into it, but that’s part of the overall plan, too.

“We’ve got to run a lot more consistent and a lot more competitive. Last year, we got really good at running 35th to 42nd. That’s how simple it is. At the end of the year, we picked it up and got a lot better at running 25th to 35th. We did improve. I know that sounds stupid, but that was a big improvement for us, to be able to pick it up 10 positions at the end of the year. We moved from being in the last quarter of the field to the third quarter.

“Now, we’ve got to move into the first half and be competitive and then move into the Top 10 before we’re ready to win. I think any of our teams, and any team in Winston Cup racing can slide in there and win a race on any given Sunday. The point is to put yourself in position to win every single week.”

That’s what Petty Enterprises plans to do. With all the changes the team has made, it might be ready soon.

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