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Can Reed Sorenson make No. 43 a winner again?

By Mike Mulhern

   Richard Petty's legendary No. 43.
   A benchmark in NASCAR for so many years.
   And now?
   Can Reed Sorenson live up to the reputation?
   And what is going on inside Richard Petty's head.
   Petty Monday announced that his just-merged team, with George Gillett, will have a new name, Richard Petty Motorsports.
   However the complete picture of things inside this operation is far from clear. Robbie Loomis, who has been general manager at Petty Enterprises the past several years, says he's "waiting for the dust to settle" before getting too far ahead of himself in this latest phase of the game.
   The Petty 'merger' last summer with investment firm Boston Ventures now seems to have been a complete bust. Petty insists that 'merger' was not ill-advised, though he concedes this new venture with Gillett will not include much if any input from Boston Ventures.
   And what about Sorenson himself? He turns 23 in a few days; in his three years on the tour, he's not shown all that much. But Gillett hired him away from Chip Ganassi, and now Petty and No. 43 are part of the deal.
   Admittedly No. 43 hasn't been a hot ticket for several years, not since the late Bobby Hamilton and John Andretti were at the wheel.
   And Dodge teams have been at the bottom of the totem pole lately. That new R06 engine hasn't shown much punch. And Chrysler executives are more concerned with simply the survival of the company, and NASCAR is far off their radar.
   If NASCAR's Dodge teams are to make something happen this year, they may have to do most of it themselves.
   No. 43?  "It adds a little pressure on everybody….and excitement," Sorenson says.
   "It's a great number to have.  I mean, it's got a ton of wins. Everybody is pretty excited about representing that number and seeing what we can do with it."
    However in his three years in that car Bobby Labonte went scoreless.
    And Sorenson concedes NASCAR current testing ban "definitely hurts teams like us. 
   "I went to a new team, and it's definitely hurting us not to have a day,or days,where we can work together and get a feel for what I feel in the car,and what changes our crew chief makes and what they do.
   "It definitely hurts us a bunch. 
    "And I think it helps a lot of the teams that have worked together for a while…and obviously helps the teams that were fast all last year.
    "But it's one of those things you can't do anything about. 
    "We're still trying to test anywhere. We tested Rockingham.
    "But it's not the same as testing at the tracks you race at. 
   "So we'll just have to work extra hard those first 10 races to figure out what we need in the cars."
     Can Petty himself be a cheerleader? It seems that this new Petty-Gillett operation needs leadership more than anything. The fiasco with Elliott Sadler shows that. George Gillett has been leaving much of the business side to son Foster Gillett. On the tech side, it's all Mark McArdle….and wherever Robby Loomis fits in.
   Loomis says for the moment he'll be "floating" among the four teams.
  "We've had two tests the past two weeks, and Richard has been to both of them, which means a lot," Sorenson says.  "A lot of the crew guys weren't expecting to see the King at the track….and then he showed up and stayed with us the whole day. 
    "He has a lot of good advice. Obviously he hasn't been in a car in a while, and has never driven one of these new cars. But he knows what he's talking about.
    "Any time he speaks, everybody will listen up."
    Sponsorship? That's a tough question for just about everyone in the sport today.
    "We're fully-funded: good-to-go for the year," Sorenson says.
    While the Petty-Gillett men have been talking about working more closely with the only remaining Dodge operation, Roger Penske's, the Penske men don't seem very interested in that. The two operations will apparently continue to have decidedly separate engine operations – an issue that may expose trouble higher up in the Dodge ranks.
   One plus: at every Goodyear tire test, each of the four auto manufacturers will have a car on the track. "So with only two teams now, it'll be every other tire test we'll get," Sorenson says.

Sorenson And Petty

The Boston Ventures deal was by no means ill-advised; it just didn't work out. Dodge has been a shambles since the start of 2001 when Stuttgart took over the program from Lou Patane and screwed it up. The teams were supposed to work together; Stuttgart basically stopped that. As for Sorenson, I haven't seen anything in him to feel confident.

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