Petty Honored

NEW YORK - Amid a week of celebration for newly crowned NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, the son of a former champion was honored Wednesday.

Kyle Petty, son of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Richard Petty, was presented with the 2002 March of Dimes Sportsman of the Year Award at the March of Dimes 11th Annual Sports Luncheon, held at the Waldorf-Astoria's Grand Ballroom.

The award punctuated a season of competitive resurgence for the younger Petty, who drives the No. 45 Sprint Dodge.

Petty finished this season 22nd in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship standings, riding the crest of a remarkable consistency over the balance of the 36-race season. The key statistic: Petty failed to finish only one race.

Of course, Petty has become synonymous with more than racing. His annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America (on motorcycles) has raised over $3 million for children's charities across the United States. In honor of his late son Adam, Petty and his wife Pattie are in the process of establishing the Victory Junction Gang Camp for seriously ill children.

That sort of thing was the "bell-ringer" for the March of Dimes, said NASCAR President Mike Helton, who spoke at the luncheon.

Petty, Helton pointed out during his speech, is the first NASCAR competitor to receive the March of Dimes award.

"Kyle," Helton said, "is truly a great ambassador for all sports. He has had a great deal of success over the years [in racing], but what he is best known for throughout the sport is using his fame to help others.

"In professional sports the product is the sport itself. The success of the sport depends on the character of those who choose to participate in it. Motorsports, in particular NASCAR, has been fortunate to have the Petty family members as participants... Kyle has elevated the Petty name to a new plateau."

Tony Stewart's New York Tour

  • Champion meets NYC/Northeast media at 21 Club ... Tony Stewart made an admission Wednesday. He's having a blast, during his "Champion's Week" activities in New York City. And that enjoyment, Stewart said, even includes dealing with the media. Addressing a group of New York-area and Northeast media at the famed ད Club, Stewart said that being interviewed away from the race track is making all the difference in the world, as far as his attitude is concerned.

    "I really didn't think I was going to enjoy this week at all," Stewart said, chuckling. "You know, dealing with the media for five days in a row... I thought I'd be on suicide watch by now. But that's been great and we've been having a lot of fun this week. The only think I don't like about this week in New York is [wearing] suits and ties. I've found out I can spend a lot less money without suits and ties."

  • Stewart an Oval Office insider... On Wednesday at the ད Club, Stewart reiterated his excitement over visiting the White House on Monday morning, and meeting President Bush. "We won't tell you guys what we talked about at the White House; it's a national security issue," Stewart joked.

  • Stewart going full speed... Stewart is looking forward to going on a cruise next week, and finally being able to truly savor his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship. "I think it all will hit me on Friday," Stewart said. "I've been staying busy. I probably haven't been home eight hours since the checkered flag dropped at Homestead [Nov. 17, at the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway]. I really haven't taken a lot of time to sit back and reflect."

  • What's on tap today for the champion... Stewart has a full schedule for Thursday, starting with an 11 a.m. trip to Times Square, where New York City Sports Commissioner Ken Podziba will issue a proclamation from the mayor's office, proclaiming Friday as "NASCAR Winston Cup Series Day in New York City." At noon Stewart will attend the annual press luncheon in the Waldorf=Astoria Grand Ballroom. At 4 p.m., the champion will have the honor of ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Around 7 p.m., Stewart will stop by the NASCAR Touring Series Dinner in the Waldorf's Empire Room, to greet the champions from NASCAR's various Touring series.
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