As usual, Petty able to focus on positives

Originally Published: July 13, 2005
By Mark Ashenfelter | Special to ESPN.com

Kyle Petty
Petty
You might think Kyle Petty's at wits end these days, that another Nextel Cup season is starting to get him down. But anyone who has followed Petty through the years would know better.

Sure the season isn't going as he'd hoped -- especially after he and Petty Enterprises teammate Jeff Green got off to solid starts back in February and March. But both have fallen off the pace the past few months, thanks in part to some tough racing luck.

Still, the standings show Petty 30th in points and Green one spot behind as the circuit heads to New Hampshire this weekend. So, as far as the standings go, it appears as if Petty Enterprises is still seeking to find its way again.

And, to a point, there's some truth to that. But Petty knows things are a lot better than they were this time a year ago. That's enough to keep him optimistic that better times are ahead.

"The way we look at it is it's not been bad because we've run about the way we started the season," Petty says. "We've run 16th, 19th, 24th; that's the way we started the season.

"The problem was we got into some other people's wrecks and some other people's accidents -- which relegated us to 42nd, 40th -- and we had a bunch of those. And when you only run 20th and then you throw in some 40ths, that's bad. Now if you can run 40th and then back it up with a second or a first, then you don't notice it as bad. That's what hurts us.

"Still, it's been pretty good. We ran good at [Infineon Raceway] and got wrecked, and had a good, solid run at Daytona. … We've had some good, solid runs, but the times we haven't had good, solid runs, we had decent runs going and we just got in wrecks."

Petty's lone top-10 was an eighth-place run in Bristol, Tenn., back in March, while Green has yet to crack the top 10 this season. Petty knows the numbers, but he also knows how the cars are driving compared with a year ago.

That's why he refuses to let the statistics get him down. Sure, things aren't great, but they're better than they have been for an operation that was once where the likes of Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are today.

Those days are long gone, and it's hard to see Petty Enterprises ever reclaiming its place among the sport's elite now that even three-car teams can't seem to keep up with Roush's five teams and the four full-time efforts fielded by Hendrick.

But Petty Enterprises has to start somewhere, and that's the view Kyle prefers to focus on.

"[A 99-point] swing would move us up to 23rd," Petty says. "And if I was [23rd], you'd be sitting here saying, 'Man, that's a big improvement over where you guys were.' And last year, from where we were at to [23rd] was 300 or 400 points at this time in the season. That's how bad a season [we had]."

Still, things are far from ideal for Petty, who has to find a sponsor or sponsors to replace Georgia Pacific next year on his No. 45 Dodge. In the past, Petty has admitted that having to focus on the business side of the operation has hindered his focus on driving the car.

"I'm not as worried about it [as in the past]," he says.

Unless one company steps forward out of nowhere, Petty plans to have multiple sponsors next year, offering a program with some unique attributes in order to differentiate Petty Enterprises from other teams with multiple sponsors.

Petty isn't ready to announce how that program will be structured, but said the Victory Junction Gang Camp he and wife Patty established in honor of their late son, Adam, will play a role.

For now, though, he and Green focus on racing. Green says the team is working extremely hard, especially in the fabrication shop to build the bodies needed to be successful.

"I think we just need to work really hard. We can't give up, and our motor package with Evernham Motors, I think, has turned our team definitely in the right direction," Green says. "We go to the racetrack without worrying about that anymore. So, we've got to figure our aerodynamics out and our downforce.

"Our sport has changed so much bodywise and what you do with the springs and the shocks. And even two years ago, it's unbelievable. And we have to figure that out. We seem like we've figured it out, but we're like a step behind everybody. We've just got to make sure that we keep stepping high, and hopefully we can get back to where we were."

Like Petty, Green still sees the positives that are out there where his team is concerned.

"I think our performance, at times, is as good as anybody's. But we just can't ever finish out a day for some reason; we can't keep up with the racetrack [in terms of adjusting the chassis]," Green says. "We've just got to keep working, racing hard. It's not easy. The harder you work, the better you're going to run, for sure.

"I'm not taking anything away from my guys. They work really hard -- they work as hard as anybody. We've just got to make sure we keep ahead of things and try to have that advantage. I think those are the guys who are winning -- the ones who have figured that advantage out. We've just got to make sure we can try to get that."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.

• Ashenfelter is an Event News Editor at ESPN.
• Worked at NASCAR Scene for eight years.
• Has covered NASCAR since 1999.