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Sad days at Richard Petty Motorsports

Richard Petty, left, who owns numerous Sprint Cup records including 200 wins, still has a team in name only. And that team’s top driver, Kasey Kahne, right, left five races early to head for Red Bull Racing, his team in 2011.

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Richard Petty, left, who owns numerous Sprint Cup records including 200 wins, still has a team in name only. And that team’s top driver, Kasey Kahne, right, left five races early to head for Red Bull Racing, his team in 2011.

Vince Lombardi has his name on the NFL's trophy, but Chuck Noll won twice as many Super Bowls. Jerry West was immortalized in the NBA's logo, yet if you grew up on Michael or Shaq or LeBron, that might just be a white silhouette separating a patch of blue from another of red. The Babe will forever be the Babe, though the long history of baseball also delivered Hammerin' Hank, Teddy Ballgame, The Mick, and the Say Hey Kid, all legends as well. So there might be no one single figure more closely associated with his sport — no icon more intertwined — than Richard Petty.

A likeable sort who made headlines on the racetrack and friends off it, The King took care of generations of fans as NASCAR grew up and spread out.

Now it seems his fate might come to represent all the problems associated with that expansion beyond the family into a corporate world, where contracts replaced handshakes (and even they don't mean much), and where promises die fast.

That's what makes the news of this week so sad.

When it was announced Wednesday that Kasey Kahne was leaving Richard Petty Motorsports for Red Bull Racing five races earlier than scheduled, that seemed like a simple business decision that could benefit all sides.

But what has surfaced in the time since is far more disturbing.

Kahne, it appears, is owed large sums of money, and he's not the only one. The team's loans have been restructured numerous times, and it has been all but cut off by Roush Fenway Racing and Roush Yates, which supply its cars and engines. Employees questioned whether RPM would survive beyond Sunday.

The problems are of Petty's making only in the sense that he could no longer survive in NASCAR on his own.

This team is Petty's in name only, and majority owner George Gillett faces financial problems that extend far beyond racing.

The latest and most public of those was his forced sale of Liverpool, a soccer club of the English Premier League — whose fans he had alienated — at a greatly reduced price. Interestingly, the co-buyer was John Henry, who as half-owner of Roush Fenway Racing is apparently among Gillett's creditors.

Perhaps Gillett will find his way out of this jam. But perhaps not. Whatever the outcome, he will be forgotten like Tim Beverley and Bobby Ginn and so many other here-today-gone-tomorrow businessmen in NASCAR.

But the man in the feathered cowboy hat and dark sunglasses will be remembered.

Not like this, we hope.

Sprint Cup points

With five races to go. Only these drivers are eligible in the Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Jimmie Johnson 5,843—

Denny Hamlin 5,802 41

Kevin Harvick 5,766 77

Jeff Gordon 5,687 156

Kyle Busch 5,666 177

Tony Stewart 5,666 177

Carl Edwards 5,643 200

Greg Biffle 5,618 225

Kurt Busch 5,606 237

Jeff Burton 5,604 239

Matt Kenseth 5,587 356

Clint Bowyer 5,543 300

Up next

Tums 500, 1 p.m. Sunday, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

TV: ESPN

Sad days at Richard Petty Motorsports 10/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 22, 2010 9:03pm]

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