FONTANA, Calif. - Kyle Petty often feels more like a mother hen than a race driver these days, overseeing a struggling three-car team. A good showing in today's NAPA Auto Parts 500 could help build some much-needed positive momentum.
Although Richard Petty, Kyle's father, is listed as the owner of Petty Enterprises, the son has pretty much taken over direction of the daily operations of the team.
It hasn't been easy.
The most devastating blow, of course, was the death of Adam Petty, Kyle's son and a fourth-generation racer in NASCAR's most famous family. Adam was killed in a crash in May 2000 in Loudon, N.H., during a Busch Series practice.
The future of the Petty team was built around Adam, who was going to move up to the Winston Cup Series full-time this season.
Instead, Kyle has moved into the No. 45 car that was intended for Adam, and, rolling the dice, the longtime Pontiac team has joined Dodge in its return to NASCAR's top series after a 16-year absence.
The experiment hasn't been very successful.
Petty driver John Andretti has had the most success, giving Dodge its best finish to date with a second-place run in Bristol, Tenn. But Andretti has been just as inconsistent as his teammates and stands 29th in the points.
Buckshot Jones, who joined the Petty team this year, is 37th in the standings, has not finished better than 16th and failed to make today's 43-car starting field. Kyle, in his 22nd season in Winston Cup racing, has qualified for only five of the first nine races, also hasn't finished better than 16th and is 45th in the points.
Although he says he's probably more of a player-coach, Petty said, "Sometimes I feel like the lady that's in charge of the dorm for the fraternity," Petty said. "I just go in and clean up when they make a mess or run wild."
Kyle, who qualified 14th - three positions behind Andretti - called a team meeting following Friday's time trials at California Speedway and gave everyone a good, old-fashioned pep talk.
"I got the whole group together after Buckshot didn't make the race," Kyle said. "I've been there this year and I know what it feels like. You can't get down on yourself and get down on what's going on. We'll come back next week at Richmond and show them we're as good as they are."
Defending series champion Bobby Labonte will start from the pole on Sunday, with defending race winner Jeremy Mayfield third. Jeff Gordon, who has won two of the four Winston Cup events at this track, starts 17th.
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