Originally created 07/20/00

Petty family to focus on Busch Series



CONCORD, N.C. -- Anyone who doubted the resilience of Petty Enterprises, and of Kyle Petty in particular, needs look no further than Tuesday's announcements by the team at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The Petty clan, laid low by the worst kind of grief and tragedy in the past few months, expressed the strength to pick up the pieces, the will to continue and the wisdom to size up a situation and make the best of it.

Petty revealed Tuesday that he will step back from Winston Cup racing for awhile to bring Petty Enterprise's Sprint-sponsored Busch Series team to Cup racing next season, as planned.

Steve Grissom, Petty Enterprise's Craftsman Truck chauffeur, will take over Kyle's No. 44 Hot Wheels car, beginning at Darlington, S.C. John Andretti will continue to drive the team's famous No. 43.

The Pettys had planned a three-car operation for 2001. The difference between Tuesday's Plan B and the Plan A conceived a year or so ago is simple, and agonizing. There is no Adam Petty. Adam Petty is gone.

Adam, Kyle's 19-year-old son and heir apparent, died instantly in a crash during Busch race practice May 12 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Adam, whom Kyle described as not only his son but also his best friend, was to carry racing's royal family into the 21st century.

Kyle went into seclusion after Adam's death, skipping the Cup events at Charlotte and New Hampshire. Meantime, he drove Adam's No. 45 car in Busch events at Dover, Del., and Nazareth, Pa.

Some wondered whether Kyle had lost his will, whether he would care to continue in the sport that killed his son. His voice shook the rare times he talked, and he seemed at times adrift.

What, too, of Sprint's plans? The company had made a long-term commitment to the Petty organization, with Adam as the company's flag-carrier. Would the company, confronted by crisis, back out of the deal?

Both questions were answered Tuesday.

Kyle, 40, is one of NASCAR's most popular stars. To sustain the Sprint situation, Kyle offered to take Adam's place in the cars and to bring the program forward as it would have moved with Adam. Sprint apparently found that satisfactory.

"It's been a trying couple months, to say the least, for our entire family," Petty said. "(But) I felt like it was important to get into the 45 car and carry on something we had worked hard for at Petty Enterprises and that Adam had worked so hard to build. It was to continue that and see it through to the end."

Remember, too, that Petty, who succeeded famous father Richard as CEO this year, is responsible for about 120 employees on all three teams. He saw in the 45 team a cohesiveness that he did not want to see lost.

"I started thinking about this the Monday after Adam's accident," Kyle said. "When I walked back into Adam's shop and talked to his guys, I realized that was his team.

"When I went in and talked to them, it was more of an emotional decision for me, because I just couldn't let someone whose last name wasn't Petty back in that car."

In addition, working with the 45 group helps Kyle stay connected to his older son.

"I get more enjoyment out of driving that 45 car than I do running the Winston Cup races," Petty said. "For me, emotionally it's a healing process for me. We haven't changed the seats, we haven't changed the steering wheel. In a lot of ways, that still keeps me close to him."

With the Sprint program thus bucked up, Kyle went out on a limb with the 44 team. He informed sponsor Mattel he'd be stepping back and actually offered the company some money back, he said. Mattel agreed to stay as associate sponsor on all three Petty cars.

As a result, the Pettys are actively seeking primary sponsorship for the 44 car. Cheerios will remain on board with Andretti's 43.

Thus, with some neatly arranged moves -- and an element of business risk -- the Pettys and their associated sponsors have turned calamity into chicken salad.

Petty often compares his family team to "a bunch of farmers." When fortune frowns via death or drought, you pick up and go on.

The Pettys appear to have counted heads, handed out the implements, and are headed into the fields again.

Sunday's race

What: Pennsylvania 500

Where: Pocono Raceway (Long Pond, Pa.)

Time: 1:05 p.m.

Broadcast: Television -- TBS; Radio -- Motor Racing Network

Track: 2.5-mile, triangle-shaped oval

1999 winner: Bobby Labonte

What it takes to win: The stock car circuit embarks on one of the strangest parts of the schedule by making its return to Pocono five weeks after the running of the Pocono 500. The race is sandwiched between two off-weeks. The fact the circuit was just there and this week's race interrupts what could be a nice vacation, it's easy to see why drivers are often frustrated by Pocono. The raceway itself adds to that frustration by offering three distinctly different corners. The first is a 14-degree-banked hairpin. The second is an 8-degree-banked corner familiar to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the third is a long, 6-degree-banked familiar to road courses. What separates the third and first turns is a six-lane-wide, mile-long straightaway. The driver who gets the best jump off the third turn to get a running start for the mile-long run down the straightaway will have the advantage.

Morris News Service pick: Tony Stewart

Other drivers to watch: Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jeremy Mayfield