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Richard Petty finally wins again...but what does this really mean for Richard Petty Motorsports?

The King is back winning....but questions still surround his racing operation (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   SONOMA, Calif.

   Yes, it was one of the strangest days of the season, and not just because Kasey Kahne came out of the blue to beat road racing ace Tony Stewart to win Sunday's Sonoma 350.
   First, the nature of the race itself was somewhat unusual. Kenny Francis, Kahne's crew chief, said Goodyear's new tires for this event made things different, and made for questions about strategy.
   Second, Kahne's win was the first for team owner Richard Petty since 1999. "It has been a long time," Petty said.
   Indeed Petty's precise relationship with this organization is still not quite clear. This is the team that Ray Evernham created from scratch about six years ago….but Evernham last year sold his interest to sports businessman George Gillett. And then in December Petty came pretty much from out of nowhere in quick negotiations to gain a share of this operation. Now Gillett's involvement is somewhat unknown; he just sold his Montreal Canadiens, apparently necessary to be able make the next payment on a big financing bill for his Liverpool (England) soccer club. Where that leaves Gillett in NASCAR is unclear; he rarely shows up at Cup events.
    Petty himself has appeared on the ropes lately, with big sponsor Dodge spun sideways by Chrysler bankruptcy. Petty three weeks ago complained that he hadn't been paid by Dodge in several weeks, and he just had to fire nine employees…and there has been speculation about more cuts, perhaps even having to cut one of his fourth teams.
   "They've got a good organization, a winning organization, and I've just been lucky to get involved with it," Petty said.
   "Today really looked bad to begin win. Two had to come in the garage early…and then the other two got a lap down. Now we got lucky, and you may get a day like that only three or four times a year.
   "Hopefully it's the beginning of something new. But now we've got to get to New Hampshire and back this up.
   "The cars came off the trailer good, all four of them. It's probably the best race we've been to, as far as all four cars.
   "So for Richard Petty it's going to be a good Monday. I think we'll be welcomed home a little more enthusiastically than we have been lately."
   "I don't think Richard expected to see us win…I don't think anyone won expected that," Kahne conceded.
   After so many wins over the years, since his early days back in the 1950s, Petty has about been through it all. However his racing career over the past eight or nine months has been downright ragged.
   And where this operation goes from now is unclear.
   "This is like win number one. I'm involved…but not like I was when the shop was in Level Cross," Petty admitted. "The basic deal is just to continue what they've been doing.
   "All they want me to do is to bring in the money so they can keep racing."

Kasey Kahne gets congrats from runnerup Tony Stewart after winning Sunday's Sonoma 350 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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