Sponsor Changes For Petty

RICHMOND, Va. – Petty Enterprises is still planning on three NASCAR Winston Cup teams in 2003, but is driver/sponsor lineup is far from set.

One piece of the puzzle was announced Saturday at Richmond International Raceway when Kyle Petty said the Georgia-Pacific sponsorship would move from the No. 44 car to Kyle’s No. 45.

What happens to the No. 44? And what about John Andretti and the No. 43? There were no answers Saturday, but that’s because Petty doesn’t have any answers.

“I wish I could be more specific and say, ‘We’re going to run three Winston Cup teams,’ ” Petty said. “I can’t say that. We’re going down every road to run three Winston Cup teams.”

“This clears up the 45 for us,” Petty said of the Georgia-Pacific announcement. “Now we’re back looking for a sponsor for the 44.”

And perhaps a driver for the No. 43. Petty said he needed an answer from Andretti “two weeks ago,” but Andretti is still mulling offers from other teams as well as the Pettys.

“His main priority should be his wife and two children and what’s best for them,” Petty said. “If that’s best to be at Petty Enterprises, then he knows we want him to stay. We’ve made every effort we can to keep him.”

Petty said Andretti has given him “every indication” he wanted to stay. With Chip Ganassi Racing announcing that it hired Jamie McMurray, another possible seat for Andretti has been filled.

If Andretti does leave, there would be no hard feelings, Petty said. It’s not likely that Jerry Nadeau, currently driving the No. 44 car, would return to the Pettys, but Petty left that option open.

Petty Enterprises planned to expand to three teams in 2001 with John Andretti, Kyle and his son Adam driving. But Adam was killed at New Hampshire the year before, so Kyle switched to the No. 45, with Buckshot Jones brought in to drive the No. 44.

Jones was replaced earlier this year by Steve Grissom, who was then replaced by Jerry Nadeau. Sprint, the sponsor of the No. 45 car, announced it was leaving at the end of the year. But now that hole has been filled by Georgia-Pacific.

“We tossed around a lot of different names, we tossed around a lot of different opportunities,” Petty said. “(Georgia-Pacific chairman) Pete (Correll), in one of his flashes of brilliance – because he chose me – said, ‘Why don’t you drive it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that solves a multitude of problems right there.’ ”

The deal is through 2005, Petty said, with options for more.

Complicating matters, it seems, was the Pettys’ hiring of CART driver Christian Fittipaldi, who will compete in Winston Cup, Busch Series and ARCA races in 2003. But Petty was adamant that he wants three full-time Winston Cup teams, not including Fittipaldi.

“We have to have three teams, and we have to have three teams at this level,” Petty said. “Now, the focus becomes the 44 team. We also have the option with Christian, so we’re trying to sell Christian.”

But if a sponsor can’t be found for a full-time effort for the No. 44, perhaps Fittipaldi’s new team could be merged with the No. 44.

“If that converges and becomes one unit, it’s going to be a Winston Cup effort,” said Petty, who added that it wouldn’t be a full-time Cup effort in ’03, but instead a Cup team that runs Cup, Busch and ARCA (ABC).

It wouldn’t be fair to Fittipaldi, Petty said, “to throw him to the wolves at Daytona for the 500” in 2003. Instead, Fittipaldi will be brought along slowly. That could mean a full-time effort in 2004. But that doesn’t mean Petty Enterprises will be a four-car team then if a sponsor is found for the No. 44.

“That’s 2004,” Petty said. “I’ll worry about 2004 when it gets here. Right now, I’m worried about 2003. To do 100 percent, I need three Winston Cup teams in 2003. To do 90 percent, I can do it with two Winston Cup teams and an ABC program. But we’re doing everything we can to sell the 44 car.”

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