FORT WORTH, Texas -- Adam Petty has a lot of possible mentors in his family tree, but the 19-year-old fourth generation driver wants to be just like Jeff Gordon when he grows up.
After all, Gordon was 19 when he worked out the kinks on the NASCAR Busch Series. Now 28, Gordon has developed into one of the top drivers in Winston Cup Series history with 49 career wins and three championships.
Petty wants to do the same.
"He got the bugs worked out in the Busch cars when he was 19 and 20," young Petty said. "He went to Winston Cup and by the time he was 23 or 24, he was dominating the sport. That's what we're looking for down the road."
The first step will come today at the Texas Motor Speedway when Petty makes his Winston Cup Series debut in the DirecTV 500 (2 p.m., CBS).
Petty has a pedigree in the sport like no other. His great-grandfather, Lee Petty, won 55 races and three championships. His grandfather, Richard Petty, won 200 races and seven championships. And his father, Kyle Petty, has eight career victories on the senior circuit.
But when the green flag waves this afternoon at the 1.5-mile, D-shaped raceway, young Petty will be on his own. Lee and Richard long ago retired, and Kyle failed to qualify for the 43-car starting lineup.
"It kind of busts the weekend a little bit," Adam Petty said. "It's still exciting that I get to run my first Winston Cup race, but I sure wish the man that has helped me so much in my career to this point could have been in it.
"We'll have another chance at Charlotte. It's a big day."
Young Petty will run in five selected races this year maintain his eligibility for the Winston Cup rookie of the year title in 2001.
Adam Petty ran 188.534 mph in Friday's time trials -- well behind Terry Labonte's pole position speed of 192.137 mph -- but it was good enough for 33rd on the time charts and good enough to make the race. Rain at the massive racing complex on Saturday washed out second round qualifying, forcing NASCAR to formulate the first 36 spots in the starting lineup solely on the results of Friday's session and the final seven positions based on the current point standings.
That saved Adam Petty from getting bumped by faster cars in second round qualifying, but it didn't allow his father the chance to improve on his 186.851 mph effort that wasn't good enough to qualify under either format.
"My rain dance worked last night," Adam Petty said with a sigh of relief. "If we stood (on the first round speed), I think we would have ended up about 35th. I think two guys could have beat us. I think we would have been all right, but this is a bigger comfort."
Apparently, the rain only accelerated the inevitable for Kyle Petty, who plans to stand on top of the team's bus during the race.
"We didn't have a snowball's chance," Kyle Petty said. "We've run like junk since we've been here. We came out here with three Petty Enterprises cars and Adam is the only one that made the race (based on speed). John (Andretti) had to use a provisional and I go home.
"I'm disappointed because of (not racing with his son). We're just not there. We're getting outrun every week. But at least Adam made the race. My prayers were answered."
Kyle Petty already has used four provisional exemptions in the first six races of the season. And since he's not ranked in the top 25 in the current point standings, he's not eligible for another exemption until the DieHard 500 at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on April 16.
"I'll be blatantly honest and tell you our problem is not our cars," Kyle Petty said. "We're getting beat in the motor department and we're going to have to step up. Some guys are going to have to step up to the table or they are going to have to step up to the table somewhere else. I hate to be that blatant about it, but that's just how it is."
Adam Petty has some simple goals in today's main event. He wants to finish the race and bring his Chevrolet Monte Carlo home in one piece.
"I want to stay on the lead lap and finish in the top 25," he said. "I'd like to get out of here in a clean car that I can take to Charlotte and test. I'm real comfortable in the car right now."
To stay on the lead lap, young Petty will have to maintain a fast pace for all 500 miles. Labonte not only set the track record in qualifying, he's the defending race champion.
Kevin Lepage will start second this afternoon. He was clocked at 191.973 mph during time trials.
Current points leader Bobby Labonte is 14th on the grid at 189.800 mph, while young Petty's mentor, Gordon, is 23rd at 189.003.
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