Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Sports

Richard Petty itches to drive his team to success

After 200 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins and 1,184 races, Richard Petty has finally hit the one thing that could slow him down.

Time.

When The King was atop the racing world, Petty was involved in every aspect of his cars, from the driving to the mechanics. He stayed ingrained in the day-to-day details as a team owner, after he retired as a driver in 1992.

But as Petty approaches his 79th birthday Saturday — the same day as the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway — his role at Richard Petty Motorsports focuses more on promotions than pistons.

"Over a period of time, I got farther and farther and farther away from the race track," Petty said in a recent phone interview from his team's shop in North Carolina. "The way it's been running lately, it's looking like I'm going to have to get back involved."

That's because Petty's team hasn't been living up to the expectations of one of the most legendary names in racing.

RPM has only five wins since 2009. The No. 43 car Petty made famous has only one victory this century — Tampa native Aric Almirola's rain-shortened win at Daytona two years ago.

"It was a perfect storm for us. Everything came together. …" Petty said. "It's not come together since then."

Petty doesn't blame Almirola, the 32-year-old Hillsborough High alumnus.

Petty said Almirola is a better racer now than he was a year ago and certainly better than he was when he joined the team as a full-time Cup driver in 2012, even if the results don't always show it.

"When we give him a decent car," Petty said, "he gets the best out of it."

The problem, Petty said, is that the team doesn't give Almirola or teammate Brian Scott decent cars very often.

Almirola and Scott are two of the 11 Cup regulars who failed to lead more than one lap through the series' first 15 races. Their Fords have combined for only four top-20 runs and eight finishes on the lead lap. Neither was in the top 25 in points.

The mediocrity has surprised Petty, considering the strides his team had been making. Almirola's win in 2014 qualified him for his first appearance in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He was only 17 points from making the Chase last season but had to settle for 17th.

"I feel like the end of last year, we had our arms around everything," Petty said. "I was really looking forward to the season. It's really been a bust from the word go."

As Petty's team prepares to head back to the famed 2½-mile tri-oval, Petty is preaching a return to basics. Ignore what the other teams are doing and get back to what made Almirola a Chase contender.

"Shut the doors and don't listen to nobody," Petty said. "Let's try our way of doing things because it's worked before, and I don't see why it won't work again."

Even though Petty's role on his team has evolved, he doesn't envision stepping away.

Aside from his charity work and a fishing tournament, Petty doesn't have many other hobbies. After spending almost six decades in racing, he isn't sure what else to do — other than keep working to improve the results.

"This is what I've always done," Petty said. "I've worked my way into this. This is my lifestyle. As long as my toes are facing forward instead of upward, I think I'll still be doing all of it."

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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