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Richard Petty Motorsports: new name for Petty-Gillett-Evernham...but where's the beef?

Richard Petty waves to the fans at Daytona (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Mike Mulhern

   Richard Petty announced a new name Monday for the mergered Petty-George Gillett Dodge operation: Richard Petty Motorsports.
   And Petty insisted "We're still in the racing business."
   The Petty-Gillett and Roger Penske Dodge operations were lead-off characters in the week-long NASCAR Media Tour just down Bruton Smith Blvd from Lowe's Motor Speedway.
   While Penske executive Walt Czarnecki talked of "continuity" and "new tech people" as keys to a hoped for Penske turnaround, after a mediocre 2008, Petty himself had little more than hope to offer when pressed about the new Petty-Gillett operation.
   Petty Enterprises hasn't won in years on the NASCAR tour, and the Gillett-Ray Evernham team didn't fare well most of 2008 either, except for a brief mid-summer spurt by Kasey Kahne.
   Reed Sorenson will be the man in Petty's No. 43 this season, and the car they unveiled here had McDonalds on the quarterpanel. But Petty said he wasn't sure which other sponsors would be covering which other Cup events.
   "We didn't have enough sponsors for a full deal, and George didn't have enough for a full deal, but together we do," Petty said.
   After a very uncharacteristic few bad years in NASCAR, Penske men have done some soul searching. "There is no reason why the Penske team can't compete for the title," Czarnecki insisted.
   Michael Nelson, now the technical boss for Penske, says changes have been made "to try to shake things up."
   And Kurt Busch, the 2004 tour champ, described the changes as "heavy restructuring."
   Penske has added a full-time Nationwide team to help in the search for better technology, with ARCA star Justin Allgaier and hefty sponsorship by Verizon – which bought long-time Penske sponsor All-Tel in a deal that was just completed Jan. 9.
   Busch and crew chief Pat Tryson just tire-tested for Goodyear at Texas, newcomer David Stremme tire-tested at Las Vegas, and Sam Hornish is to tire-test this week at Atlanta. Tryson said, with all four manufacturers having cars at each tire test, it's possible for crew chiefs to see how their stuff measures up against the competition. And Tryson said Busch appeared faster at Texas than Chevy's Jeff Burton.
   Over in the Petty-Gillett camp, however, things still appear in turmoil. Kyle Petty "may run a few races for us," Richard Petty said. "But Kyle is 48, and he's been looking at things a lot differently lately. He's been moving out of the stock car picture lately, and he's got his TV stuff, and he'll be running the 24 Hours (at Daytona this weekend)."
   And Ray Evernham, who founded the team Gillett himself now owns (Petty's own share of the business is still unclear), is apparently all but out of that picture.
   The man where the buck stops, on the technical side, is Mark McArdle. And McArdle says everyone at the shop has been to forget about all the recent political drama and get down to business of getting back on track.
   One of many questions – AJ Allmendinger, whose schedule as driver for the Gillett-Petty No. 44 is still up in the air. Only five races so far are sponsored.

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