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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Richard Petty serves notice that he's not going anywhere

Earlier this offseason, I wrote that the new era of NASCAR did not appear to have a place for the legendary Petty name .. that The King just didn’t fit anymore.

I suggested that the planned merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports would leave the King as a largely symbolic owner who didn’t really have much pull as far as team decisions.

Richard Petty is out to prove me wrong, and I wish him luck, as such a key part of NASCAR’s history should never fade away. On Monday, it was announced that the newly merged team will be called Richard Petty Motorsports. It will consist of Kasey Kahne in the #9, Elliot Sadler in the #19, Reed Sorenson in the #43 and (so-far part-time) A.J. Allmendinger in the fourth car, which will change from #10 to #44, a number that is a big part of the history of the Petty organization.

In addition to using Petty’s name and the number change on the fourth car , Petty is also showing his clout by sticking to a promise he made to his mother long ago never to have alcohol sponsorship on his cars … as the #43 and #44 cars will not carry any Budweiser logos.

I figured Gillett would call the shots in this merger because his team is stronger, but it appears the King is using the muscle that comes with his name to put his stamp on the team. And I’m glad I was wrong about what his role would be. Since Day 1, the Pettys have been important in the world of NASCAR and have helped create some of the sport's most exciting moments over the past six decades.

The past decade has been difficult for the Petty team, and what the future holds for this new organization is very much up in the air. GEM had an unimpressive 2008 for the most part, and the Petty team was pretty much bad all around. But now, if they can rely on solid leadership and the benefits of having four cars to share information, it’s possible a team with a Petty name could once again be competitive on a regular basis and even taste victory.

Kasey Kahne is clearly talented enough to win, and has done so many times in the past. He’s likely the person who will be driving the first RPM car to make it to Victory Lane. And when he does that, all NASCAR fans should be happy to see the Petty name victorious for the first time since John Andretti won in the #43 car in 1999. Don’t count on anything spectacular from Sadler or Sorenson, but Allmendinger has shown he is a talent and could put on some great performances for the team. If they get some more sponsorship for him, he could surprise a lot of people in 2009.

This news has made one thing clear to me: Richard Petty is not ready to fade off into the sunset, and wants to be part of this sport as long as he’s around. I’m glad to hear that.

Don’t expect miracles, but even a respectable performance by a team named Richard Petty Motorports would go a long way toward restoring the greatness that was once associated with the Petty name before its recent struggles.

I’m rooting for you Richard, and I’m glad you’re still around.

Other news
Drivers without a ride just want to race, and Scott Riggs will drive for the brand new team owned by longtime crew chief Tommy Baldwin. Riggs, once a Busch Series standout, once looked like he had a promising future in Cup, but has struggled mightily in recent years. Unfortunately for him, I don’t see him attaining that long-awaited success with a new team that has no sponsor yet.

In other news, the #22 car formerly owned by Bill Davis may not run at all this year. If that happens, look for Sam Hornish Jr. to jump into that top-35 in points and a guaranteed starting spot for the first five races.


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