Pettys plan next three races as Kyle contemplates future

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kyle Petty could be softening on his decision to step away from the No. 45 car at Petty Enterprises next season.

NASCAR's most famed organization announced plans on Tuesday to put Chad McCumbee in the car this week at Pocono, followed by Petty the following week at Watkins Glen and Terry Labonte the next week at Michigan.

Petty was originally scheduled to return to his car after a seven-week hiatus -- six to serve as an analyst for TNT and one to attend his daughter's wedding -- last week at Indianapolis but stepped aside in favor of Labonte.

When asked about his plans to step aside again this week, a source close to the organization said the son of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty was contemplating his future.

Asked if Petty was available for comment, a member of the organization said the release announcing plans for the next three races would be the only statement this week.

In the release, vice president of race operations Robbie Loomis said the three drivers will be competing at places "where they have all had success in the past."

McCumbee, in one of his two Cup starts, finished 25th at Pocono last season. Petty hasn't done well there lately, but he won in 1993 and had two top 10s there in 1992.

Labonte, who has been successful on road courses, won't be in the car at Watkins Glen but will be at Michigan, where he has seven top fives, 13 top 10s and two poles.

But in his last two starts he has finished 39th and 40th.

Petty has insisted he wants to stay in the car next season to keep his name visible to benefit the Victory Junction Gang Camp for chronically ill children.

But the organization wants somebody in the car that will be competitive to help Bobby Labonte in the No. 43.

Petty's car is 41st in owner points, well outside the top 35 guaranteed a spot in the field each week. Petty qualified for only nine of the 11 races he's attempted this season and has an average finish of 34.3.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.