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Kyle Petty: ’It’s not our job to ask the fluff’ PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 12:00 AM

Associated Press


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kyle Petty, the driver-turned-analyst with the unfiltered opinions, has angered someone new.

Petty didn’t mean to make Denny Hamlin mad with his televised comments before Sunday’s race at Pocono. Hamlin, who saw the segment on Speed, tweeted before the race “Kyle Petty is a moron” and was still venting about Petty after crashing out 14 laps into the race.

Turns out, Hamlin had every right to be upset. Petty admitted to The Associated Press on Monday he had misinterpreted previous statements made by Hamlin and the opinion Petty presented pre-race about Hamlin was incorrect.

“If you are going to run your mouth, if you are going to dish it out, you gotta take it, and the bone of contention here is that Denny is 100 percent right,” Petty explained. “I can take it, I can say that I’m wrong and that I misinterpreted what Denny said.”

Actually, that’s not the bone of contention at all.

The issue at hand is that Petty has found his voice to be the loudest and most polarizing in a sport filled with NASCAR “partners” often too timid to ruffle any feathers. Nobody wants to land on the wrong side of a driver, a crew chief, a team owner or NASCAR itself. And with the hours upon hours of programming to fill, it’s sometimes just easier to stay on good terms.

That’s not who Petty is; he’ll never play that game.

He found himself in the news — breaking journalism rule No. 1 — last month when he claimed Danica Patrick was a marketing machine who would never be a successful driver. It’s not the first time he’s referred to NASCAR’s darling as such and it won’t be the last.

For some reason, it was news — well, who are we kidding? All things Danica are news. But that’s beside the point. Petty was under attack for speaking his opinion.

“Sometimes I find myself the lone dissenting voice in this sea of political correctness and I don’t think everything has to be politically correct. Facts are facts and honestly, it’s just my opinion,” he said. “I don’t think that any of us — me, Kyle Petty, media, the drivers, NASCAR, track owners; we aren’t all right all the time. We don’t all live in a utopian society where everything is perfect. There are things that need to be examined, that need to be called out, and I seem to be the only one that says it. That’s the only way I’ve always been.

“It’s just my opinion. It’s just my question. It’s questions that have to be asked. Just as it’s their job to go out and drive the race car and do what they do, it’s not our job to ask if they went fishing or went to the Bahamas and just ask the fluff. It’s our responsibility to inform the fan base.”

Petty believes his 53 years of knowledge and hands-on experience gives him the right to express his opinion and be a voice for the fans.

He’s part of NASCAR royalty; the son of 7-time champion Richard Petty and grandson of 3-time champion Lee Petty. Both are in the Hall of Fame and his uncle, Maurice Petty, will be inducted into the Hall next year.

So Kyle Petty was born into a racing family, grew up in the garage area and gravitated into the business. He worked on cars, raced them,and moved into ownership with Petty Enterprises. His oldest son, Adam, followed him into the business, too, until his 2000 death in an accident at New Hampshire.

Sure, Kyle Petty’s driving record wasn’t spectacular. But 829 Sprint Cup starts over 30 seasons means the guy has seen his fair share of stuff and paid his dues.

And he’s certainly entitled to speak his mind.

He doesn’t think he’s wrong about what he said about Patrick, although he’s willing to let facts change his mind. What he’s found in the world of racing, particularly in this new age of Twitter, is there’s no such thing as a civil discussion.

After his comments about Patrick went mainstream, Petty asserted he was flooded with 250 tweets an hour for a full day. He went through them all, waiting for a reasonable argument, but only found personal attacks.

“After a full day, it was A. I have a ponytail; B. I’m a never-was; C. I suck; D. I rode my dad’s coattails — none of which is a valid argument,” Petty explained. “You can change my opinion if you have a valid argument. You can’t just go junior high and go personal.”

Which is why Petty, who does indeed have a ponytail, doesn’t feel badly about his comments about Hamlin on Sunday.

Petty essentially said that Hamlin had gotten too brash in his comments about being the face of Joe Gibbs Racing and should probably hang it up for the rest of the season and focus on healing his ailing back. What Hamlin had actually said was that he was the face of sponsor Fed-Ex and the No. 11 team.

Hamlin talked about Petty after his accident — because he was asked by a reporter, not because he was dwelling on Petty — and was still miffed.

“My beef with Kyle is he has a lot of opinions about a lot of drivers but he never once talked to any of them,” Hamlin said. “To be an analyst, you’ve got to be in the trenches to find out the stories.”

Petty would have reached out to Hamlin or apologized for making a mistake but then came the “moron” tweet.

“Denny’s argument was a typical Twitter argument; he calls me a moron and then he goes personal,” Petty said. “So I’m just not going to acknowledge it.”

It’s unlikely it’s the last driver disagreement Petty will have this year. After that, who knows?

Speed flips to Fox Sports 1 later this month and nobody knows what will happen to the bulk of the NASCAR programming beyond this season. Petty joked Monday “everybody’s dream may come true and I may be watching races on my couch, or from a tiki bar in the Bahamas.”

But that shouldn’t be anybody’s dream. Petty’s opinions may not be popular or politically correct. But they are his; he believes in them and is not afraid to shout them from a trackside television set or inside the Hall-of-Fame voting room, where he’s influenced many a vote with his impassioned speeches.

Petty isn’t afraid to admit when he’s wrong but he’s the equivalent of a single-car team in a sport full of heavily-funded big dogs and he’s not afraid to make waves.

“I don’t need an interview from Danica or Denny or Brian France,” he added. “But for their sport to survive, they need an interview from us. I was on that side of that table. I needed you to talk to me when I was a driver because I needed Coca-Cola or Wells Fargo, and if you didn’t talk to me, I didn’t get that job or that cash. I don’t know if people see it that way anymore. If we don’t cover the races, then there’s no sport. If we don’t talk about how great Denny is or Jimmie (Johnson) is or Danica, then there’s no fans.

“You are going to ruffle feathers sometimes and the texts or phone messages I get, that’s fine. That’s part of life. Because once you start singing the company line, you become white noise and that’s not me.”

Kimball’s patience pays off with 1st win

LEXINGTON — Chip Ganassi had a plan. Of course he did. He always does.

When the relentless IndyCar owner hired Charlie Kimball to drive the No. 83 Honda in 2011, Ganassi did it with implicit instructions. None of those instructions included racing to win.

“He’s telling you to go out and just finish the races and learn as much as possible,” Kimball said. “And you get a lot of flak for not getting the results that you might expect or want to but you’re following the boss’s orders.”

Ganassi urged Kimball to study teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti and stressed he would remain patient with the results so long as Kimball stuck to his end of the bargain.

By year three, Ganassi believed Kimball would be ready to win. And as usual, Ganassi was right.

Kimball’s dominating victory in the Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Sunday did more than allow the 28-year-old to raise a trophy for the first time in his IndyCar career. It also put to rest the notion he would spend his time at Ganassi as the program’s third wheel.

Not that Franchitti needed to be convinced. The 4-time series champion knows talent when he sees it. He watched Kimball’s team build momentum and realized it was only a matter of time before he would find himself on the podium looking up at his teammate.

“He’s smart and he’s taken full advantage of the fact that he’s a member of the team, the Ganassi team and all the stuff that he’s got available to him, whether it’s experience or the engineering group or equipment at his disposal,” said Franchitti, who finished third behind Kimball and Simon Pagenaud. “He’s taking full advantage of it.”

The path to Victory Lane was triggered by a call early in the race to switch strategy. All three Ganassi cars tried to get through the 90-lap event needing only two pit stops. Doing it required the drivers to sip fuel rather than mash on the gas. It became evident early on the better idea would be to floor it and hope the extra time in the pits could be made up by quicker laps on the track.

It also served as an opportunity for Ganassi to “hedge” his bets, as Kimball put it. Unlike Dixon and Franchitti, who are still in the picture for the season championship, Kimball could afford to gamble. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, well, he hadn’t planned on celebrating at the track where he broke his hand a year ago in testing anyway.

Yet it quickly became apparent the decision to race instead of coast was the way to go. While Dixon, pole-sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power tried to stretch their mileage like a family on their way to the beach for summer vacation, Kimball practically drove the wheels off.

The only tricky spot came with 18 laps to go when Pagenaud exited pit road with the lead. Out on the track, Kimball ate up nearly all the deficit but ended up sliding into the grass when Pagenaud cut off Kimball’s initial pass attempt.

Pagenaud couldn’t do it twice. Kimball zipped past Pagenaud a few moments later and won by more than five seconds.

The win produced a moment Kimball didn’t quite believe was possible after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2007. He considered retiring, fearing the disease would prevent his body from withstanding the rigors of sitting inside a hot, cramped and noisy cockpit for hours at a time.

A disciplined diet and a monitor he can access while racing allayed those fears. Closing in on the biggest moment of his career on Sunday at the technically demanding 2.258-mile circuit, Kimball dutifully checked his glucose levels every 5-10 laps. The numbers never strayed out of normal range, leaving Kimball free to soak in the moment.

One that became a reality for Kimball and tamped down any lingering doubts he had about his ability to compete against IndyCar’s best, including the two guys in the adjoining garages. The victory “quieted a lot of voices,” including the one in his head. Now he can focus on the next step in a future getting brighter lap by lap.

Sprint Car driver dies after crash at Pa. track

ABBOTTSTOWN, Pa. — Veteran Sprint Car driver Kramer Williamson died from injuries suffered during a qualifying race at Lincoln Speedway in central Pennsylvania, according to race organizers and the coroner’s office.

Williamson, 63, of Palmyra, was pronounced dead at York Hospital at about 1:15 p.m. Sunday, the York County coroner’s office reported. He had suffered serious injuries in a crash that occurred Saturday night during the United Racing Company 358/360 Sprint Car Challenge.

Investigators said Williamson’s pink No. 73 car was on the fourth lap of a 10-lap qualifying round when it climbed onto another car and crashed into a retaining wall on the second turn, climbing the fence before returning to the track and flipping over several times. He was extricated from the car and flown to the hospital, where he underwent surgery.

United Racing Company co-owner John Zimmerman said the team is mourning the loss of a popular and accomplished driver.

“URC lost the most popular driver and accomplished driver in our storied history,” Zimmerman wrote in a statement. “We are so saddened by the loss of an unforgettable member of our URC Family.”

Williamson was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2008 and had been racing for more than 40 years. He shared the 1971 rookie of the year title at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg.

The last driver fatality at Lincoln was in 1975.

Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Thursday at the Rothermel Funeral Home in Palmyra, followed by burial at Gravel Hill Cemetery.


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