Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Legendary Richard Petty, turning 75: the biggest winner in NASCAR history, but just where does he fit into the stock car world of today?

Legendary Richard Petty, turning 75: the biggest winner in NASCAR history, but just where does he fit into the stock car world of today?

The King: Richard Petty turns 75 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   The question is simple:
   But first, happy birthday, Richard Petty!
    75 and still going strong.
   Well, 75 and still going.
   A.J. Foyt, back when he was a NASCAR regular, used to barbeque a mess of Texas rattlesnake on a grill in the Daytona garage every July for Petty and friends.
   But it's been a while.
   Has it really been 20 years since Petty last drove legendary 43?
   And for team owner Petty, well, there are questions:
   Like Dodge?
   Like is there still enough magic in the Petty name, the Richard Petty franchise?

   Petty and his business partners have been in the Ford camp two years now, but that contract is up.
   Is Ford interested in renewing?
   To be blunt, how valuable is Richard Petty Motorsports these days in the grand scheme of things. The man himself is still a steadfast fixture in the NASCAR garage every weekend, atop the hauler, earphones on, under his trademark cowboy hat.
   But since the bailout by New York City taxi wheeler-dealer Andy Murstein and investment manager Doug Bergeron, after that George Gillett fiasco, the Petty operation has seemed almost to fade into the shadows, except for a run or two.


  The King: facing another decision? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Bringing Roger Penske into the Ford fold next season puts that question into a finer focus.
   Like what has Petty done for Ford lately?
   And just what is Petty's position on the team that bears his name anyway? Does he even have a vote in this matter, or is it up to the money men?
   At the moment it would seem that, to some degree, the Petty operation is subsidized by Ford. How much, if any, is unclear. But certainly Petty men cannot complain about their Roush-Yates engines, which Kenseth and Biffle have shown to be strongest on the tour.
     Marcos Ambrose has made some headlines, though his follow-through at Sonoma wasn't that impressive.
   Aric Almirola, though he's improved since crew chief Mike Ford was brought on board in mid-May, still hasn't made many waves on race days.
    If Richard Petty Inc. returns to the Dodge camp, well, there are a number of issues to resolve.
    To begin with,  Penske's current hot run with Brad Keselowski -- three tour wins already this season -- and Ford's 1-2 punch in the Sprint Cup standings with Kenseth and Biffle put the klieg light on Petty, Ambrose and Almirola, who haven't been nearly as successful. In fact both Ambrose and Almirola are longshots to make the playoffs, unless each man wins a couple of races between now and Labor Day.
   And somewhere along the line here -- whether with Penske and Roush, or Penske and Petty -- someone may raise the question of how closely Penske will play with teammates. When Petty and Penske were both with Dodge, Penske pointedly declined to work with Petty's own engine program.



      Once the baddest guys on the stock car tour: Richard Petty (R) and crew chief Dale Inman (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Of course at the midpoint of the season, all is not well in a number of camps.  
   And with Kenseth having tipped the dominoes, over the next several weeks more could fall:
   First off, how quickly will team owner Joe Gibbs get Joey Logano under a new contract? Logano just won Pocono, which should give him leverage.
   However if Kenseth is indeed headed to the Gibbs camp to wear Home Depot colors, then Gibbs will have to find full sponsorship for Logano, perhaps with Dollar General, currently part-time.
   It appears that Gibbs' reluctance to announce the Kenseth deal yet is related to negotiations with Logano.


  Joey Logano: wins Pocono....but when will Joe Gibbs announce a new contract? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   However the Kenseth move was highly unexpected, after 14 years with Ford's Jack Roush, so maybe the next driver move or two will likewise surprise.
    One question here, is Chevrolet interested in Logano? If so, where might the 22-year-old fit in? With Richard Childress perhaps?
    Among the top drivers who have not locked up deals for 2013:
   Kurt Busch. His temper tantrums are well documented, and his dramatic comeback at Sonoma was admirable. However one day does not save a career.
    Ryan Newman. After a few weeks of questions, it looks like Tony Stewart is ready to sign Newman to a new contract, presumably  when  they can also announce sponsorship. That U.S. Army sponsorship debate has become quite political...
   Brian Vickers. Part-time this season, but very impressive in his few starts, especially at Sonoma and Martinsville.
   Martin Truex Jr. Almost certain to sign again with Michael Waltrip, though it would be nice to have a tour win to celebrate.
   AJ Allmendinger. The late addition to the Penske camp, he hasn't really had many moments so far, and his teammate's three wins put that in stark relief.
   Jamie McMurray. Since his fantastic 2010 season, he hasn't had much to crow about. (Of course neither has teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, but that's another story.)
    Aric Almirola. A late pick to take Allmendinger's slot with Petty, Almirola has potential, and this is his first full Cup season. But then he's been showing potential since 2008....


  Marcos Ambrose: wins one for the King, at Watkins Glen (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Bottom line: There have been 12 different winners already this season, and Newman, with that Martinsville surprise, is the only one of them.
   You think they all might start pressing things?
   Adding fuel here, it appears that team owners, regardless of sponsorships, would like to expand.
   Roger Penske could go back to three Cup teams; Sam Hornish Jr. appears to be making good progress, though it's unclear just where Allmendinger stands.
   Childress could go back to four teams.  But would he add grandson Austin Dillon to the Cup roster? All three Childress men -- Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton -- are winless. Menard won the Brickyard 400 last year; Harvick had four tour wins; Burton is winless since 2008. And the Childress teams appear this season to be behind the Rick Hendrick and Roush, and maybe Gibbs too.
   Roush just announced he plans to return to four teams, moving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne up to Cup, with Kenseth and Biffle. (Where that leaves the Wood brothers isn't clear.)
  Michael Waltrip says he  too wants to make it to four teams, if he can get sponsorship for Vickers.


   Dodge men unveiling the 2013 Dodge at Las Vegas in March. But since then, only silence. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   However, the big story so far is still Dodge.
    And Chrysler officials have had little to say about NASCAR for months now since Penske in March announced his pending split.
   Daytona 500 testing is only six months off, and the 2013 Dodge engine program is still up for debate...and seemly a bit of controversy: an innocuous item by a  part-time, little-known sports blogger last week created a tizzy in the Dodge world, prompting denials all the way around about 2013.
   Much ado about nothing? Looks like Dodge and current Dodge team boss Penske are a little sensitive about the questions.
   Penske is moving from Dodge to Ford for 2013, and he has said virtually nothing about how his 2013 Ford project is going.
    What engines will Penske use in his Fords? He hasn't said; and he hasn't said what's going to happen to his own engine shop and the 80 men (and their families).
   Will Ford execs allow Penske to build his own Ford FR9s, or will he have to come to terms with Jack Roush and Doug Yates, who currently have the Ford NASCAR franchise?
    Sources close to the situation say that Penske and Roush-Yates will somehow merge engine operations.
    What does that mean for Penske's Dodge engine men, who remember just won the Kentucky 400 with some stout stuff, their third Cup tour win of the year with Keselowski?

   When does this Dodge-Ford-Penske thing become too uncomfortable for Dodge and/or Ford?
   That third win puts Keselowski in the championship playoffs, almost certainly, unless two other men in the top-20 by early September also have three wins and are higher than Keselowski in the standings -- hardly likely.
   Which means Penske-Dodge-Keselowski should be hot in the title chase. Keselowski remember last season was in the hunt until the final month of the season.
    But what does all mean for Penske-Ford-Keselowski....an operation that has to be ready for launch in January?
    A lot of loose ends here.
    Add in that Dodge -- whose officials have consistently denied to confirm any  plans to race in NASCAR in 2013 yet -- if it wants to run more NASCAR, needs a major league engine program.
    Insiders say that some top stock car engineers and engine builders are eager for the Dodge 2013 job.
    And NASCAR  executives naturally want to keep Dodge in the sport.
    Still, at the moment there are no Dodge NASCAR teams for 2013, there is no Dodge engine program for 2013, and it is unclear who if anyone has even been testing the 2013 Dodge.  
    It would seem an awkward moment for Dodge all the way around.


    Cale Yarborough (L) listening to Richard Petty (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com