NASCAR: Petty says NASCAR needs old-school rivalries
By Tom Fitzgerald
The Providence Journal
There are plenty of personalities to stoke interest in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, just not enough rivalries. That’s the view of somebody in the rare vantage point of being both a driver and a member of the media.
It’s not that Kyle Petty wants drivers to leap out of their cars and tackle each other. He’d just like rivalries with some staying power on the track, as it used to be in the heyday of his dad, Richard, whom, like other people in stock-car racing, he refers to as “The King.”
“If you go back and look at the rivalry between The King and (David) Pearson and Bobby (Allison), or the rivalry between (Dale) Earnhardt Sr. and Geoff Bodine and Darrell Waltrip or Rusty Wallace, it was a competitive rivalry. It wasn’t a get-out-the-car-and-mouth-off-at-each-other rivalry. No matter how bad the rivalry got, you still respected their ability and their talent.”
Petty, 48, won’t be racing in this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. After competing in every Cup race in Sonoma since 1990 ó including last year’s stint as both a driver and an analyst ó he’s out of the car to broadcast the race for TNT.
NASCAR certainly has its personalities. The white hat belongs to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who last week in Michigan got his first win in two years, but sometimes the black hat of the villain gets passed around, he said.
“For all those years, they cheered Jeff Gordon until he started winning,” Petty said. “Then they started hating him.”
Now that the Vallejo native is older (36) and married with a family, he is perceived differently. Or maybe it’s because he hasn’t won the Cup Series since 2001, when he won his fourth in a seven-year span.
“Jeff jumped out to those four championships, and everybody said eight or 10 are possible,” Petty said. “And then he’s just run into a cold stretch.
“I don’t think he’s different,” Petty said. “You’ve got 23-year-old Kyle Busch sitting here, so now Jeff’s the good guy.”
Gordon hasn’t won this year, but Petty said, “He’s as good or better than he’s ever been.”
Becoming a family man hasn’t made Gordon less competitive. “If you could have heard him last week when we were doing the in-car camera stuff with him,” Petty said, “he was livid that the car wouldn’t turn or do what he wanted it to do.”