Families team up to rebuild dynasties

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2001

FORT WORTH, Texas -- When your last name is Andretti, you expect more than two victories in a career of 233 races. And when your last name is Petty, you expect more than three victories in the past eight years.

John Andretti and Petty Enter prises need each other.

Their sixth-place finish two weeks ago at Darlington, S.C., and second-place finish last week at Bristol, Tenn., have created a glimmer of hope that both proud families again might run with the lead pack. Everything predicated at Petty Enter prises for the past two years has been for the future. Andretti, it seems, would like to see that timetable pushed up a couple of years.

The death of fourth-generation heir Adam Petty a year ago and a transition from Pontiacs to Dodges have team owner Kyle Petty thinking more about the 2003 season and beyond. For the most part, the three cars flying the Petty banner have raced like there's a greater emphasis on races yet to come.

Andretti would like to change all that.

''I don't know if you can call two races a turnaround,'' Andretti said. ''I know Kyle and the team have worked real hard to make Petty Enterprises better. It's a tough sport.''

There is no panic in the Petty camp, although it's been a struggle to get Kyle and Buckshot Jones in the starting lineup. The owner, son of racing legend Richard Petty, has missed two races and used one qualifying exemption in the first six races. Jones has used one provisional.

The team is sorting through all the headaches that come with jumping to a new manufacturer. The move to Dodge required a leap of faith since the car doesn't have a history on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

''When you do something from scratch, it's all trial and error,'' Petty said. ''You don't have anything to fall back on. Chevrolet and Ford have 20 years worth of research to fall back on with their engines. We don't. It's going to take us years to build up the kind of experience we need to be competitive on a routine basis.

''We were the worst Pontiac team out there (a year ago). What makes you think we'd be any better with Dodge (this year)?''

Top-10 finishes were supposed to be a bonus this year for the Petty group as it rebuilds a dynasty that that lost its competitive edge 15 years ago. That's not good enough for Andretti, the nephew of another legend, Mario Andretti.

''It's really not special to finish second anywhere. You're so close when you finish second. If all the strategy worked out the ifs, ands, buts, could-haves and should-haves worked out we could win. Until then, we have to be happy with second place.

''But when you get a win, it fixes a lot of things.''

Andretti must be on the right track because NASCAR is taking more time looking at his Dodge Intrepid. The sanctioning body has a habit of looking harder at the front-runners, and Andretti must have elevated to that level last week at Bristol.

A post-race inspection revealed his car failed to meet minimum height requirements. Crew chief Greg Stead man was fined $20,000 Wednes day.

There's no real hurry to go fast at Petty Enterprises just yet, but that hasn't stopped Andretti from trying. Just because a 52-year-old race team is starting over doesn't mean it's lost its will to win.

After all, when you're named Andretti, it's instinctive to run in the lead pack. The same when your name is Petty.

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