Petree Takes A New Approach

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TALLADEGA, Ala. - Most NASCAR Winston Cup car owners work behind the scenes, raising sponsorship money and hiring the people to run their race team.

Andy Petree does those things, but he’s also got his hands in his two race teams. That’s his background, and that’s his nature. The No. 55 of Bobby Hamilton and the No. 33 of Mike Wallace - when he runs - probably have been tinkered with by Petree at some point.

“I like having a lot to do with what’s going on,” Petree said. “I’ve always been that way. Even when I was a crew chief, I was probably more of a hands-on crew chief than most. That really hasn’t changed since I became a team owner.”

Well, yes it has, Hamilton said. Petree still is involved in the race team, of course, but Hamilton and crew chief Charley Pressley are asserting themselves.

“Naturally, Andy Petree being the kind of car owner he is, he’s real aggressive,” Hamilton said. “He’s a championship crew chief in his day with Dale Earnhardt. You have three people making decisions at times, and we’re finally starting to realize what all three of us want.

“Andy’s gotten pretty comfortable with the situation and backed off a little bit and let me and Charley sort of have our way.”

Which is a good thing, Hamilton said, because he and Pressley work well together.

“Charley and I have worked real good together when I drove for Larry McClure,” Hamilton said. “That’s why I wanted him because I thought I wouldn’t have to go through a big learning curve there.”

Hamilton’s team has undergone a transformation since last season, and it’s not just about Petree’s involvement. When Jimmy Elledge left to become crew chief for Dale Jarrett, several crewmen left Andy Petree Racing to follow Elledge.

That left some holes at APR that had to be filled. Some crewmen from the No. 33 team, which has raced only twice this season because of a lack of sponsorship, have moved to the No. 55.

Still, in a business where chemistry is essential, Hamilton’s team was taken aback.

“When Jimmy left, we lost a lot of people,” Hamilton said. “Anytime you have to restructure, it just sets you behind.”

Performance has suffered a bit, as Hamilton stands 30th in the Winston Cup points standings as his team has gone it alone in 2002 without the benefit of a teammate.

“The 33 team not being there on a regular basis has hurt us,” Hamilton said. “We don’t have another team to feed off of. That’s a must these days with all the multi-car teams.”

But things are getting better. Hamilton qualified second and led some laps at Martinsville on Sunday, and now he heads to Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499. Hamilton is the defending champion, and APR cars have always run well there.

But before he can turn loose his strength in the race, Hamilton has to qualify. And that can be a tricky thing at a restrictor-plate track.

“Restrictor-plate racing is a weird deal,” Hamilton said. “You can have a car with just a little bit of drag and a real good motor, and you’re just not going to qualify good. But when the flag drops, you can race good.

“Talladega and Daytona, the very first race we have is getting into the race. There are people like myself, Johnny Benson, some of Childress’ cars that are mired back in the points. I’m sitting 30th in owner points.”

Hamilton said he thinks he has a fast car but he might not be able to prove it until Sunday.

“We tested good,” Hamilton said. “Our speeds are good, we feel like. But you could have an ignition box to go out during your qualifying lap or something, and then you have to fall back on a provisional. It could get pretty ugly back there (in the points standings) with as many cars we have.”

Once the race starts, though, Hamilton should be good. He was last year, though he led only the last two laps of the caution-free race.

Otherwise, Hamilton was content to ride around, saving his equipment and missing "The Big Wreck."

“It’s funny. Everyone thinks that we grip that wheel the whole time, but you’re out there for so long and just holding it wide open,” Hamilton said. “We just put our foot on the gas and flatten it out. There is no changing gears and hardly any movement. It’s really funny. We all wave at each other out there as we drive by.

“I remember last fall I was battling Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead, and I drove up right beside him. I looked over there at him and was going to kid around with him by telling him he was No. 1. I cracked up when I saw him scratching the back of his neck and not even watching what he was doing. Here we both are, running for the lead, and I’m looking at him, but he’s looking down.”

In the end, Hamilton edged Tony Stewart and Roush Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Martin. He had help from former APR teammate Joe Nemechek and Earnhardt Jr. – both members of the RAD program which brings together Petree, Richard Childress Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. for superspeedway testing.

“I got lucky at the end of the race because I had Joe Nemechek behind me, and then I had Dale Jr. behind him – which was all RAD program cars,” Hamilton said. “It was a perfect situation for me.”

And maybe he’ll find himself in that situation again.

Qualifying for Sunday's Aaron's 499 is scheduled to begin at 4:05 ET Friday.

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