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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome back, King ... It's great to see Richard Petty back in Victory Lane

10 years.

That’s how long it’s been since Richard Petty has been able to walk into Victory Lane after a driver at his team has taken the checkered flag. To give you an idea of how long ago it was, John Andretti was the winner of that race.

I recognize it’s not Petty Enterprises, which ceased to exist after the end of 2008. I know the Gillette team is running the show over there, and Petty is mostly around as a public face, someone to help bring in sponsorship money and keep the team running.

But the fact remains that the team is still called Richard Petty Motorsports, and the record will show a Richard Petty-owned car, driven by Kasey Kahne, won the race at Sonoma this weekend.

And that is good for the sport of NASCAR.

People forget about history too quickly. It’s always about the next best thing. Which 15-year-old can they sign to a development deal so he’ll race in Cup at age 20? What team is the next one that’s going to get hot?

But there are a few faces that should never be forgotten in the sport, and Petty is one of them. When you consider the accomplishments he, his father and his son had on the track (250+ wins), it’s arguable that the Petty name is the most important name in the sport’s history.

He is The King, winner of 200 races, and his presence is so big that he is revered to this day, even though his team Petty Enterprises was pretty terrible for its final decade of existence and hadn’t competed for a title since the early 1980s.

The naysayers will say it’s all image, that Kahne is a Gillette driver, not a Petty driver, and this doesn’t really boost the Petty legacy.

But I would disagree with those naysayers. The simple fact that the Petty name has been able to survive so long in this superteam era is a miracle in and of itself. And to see a team with Petty’s name attached in Victory Lane in 2009 is quite an accomplishment.

And if you have any doubt the Petty name still holds some sway in NASCAR, ask what people you know thought about the race. I bet more people were excited to see Richard Petty in Victory Lane than they were to see Kahne there.

You can count me in that group, too.

RPM solid all around
Other than Reed Sorenson, who finished 40th, RPM had their best day as a team since Daytona. Kahne won, A.J. Allmendinger was 7th and Elliott Sadler was 10th.

Random thought
While I’m on the Petty topic, did anyone else notice that announcer Kyle Petty didn’t seem to eager to congratulate his father’s team on its success Sunday. He did so when prompted by the other announcers, but it seemed a bit forced. I’m guessing the ugly divorce he had from the organization during the merger, in which he was completely shut out, probably left a bad taste in his mouth.


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