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Winston Cup Series

Wednesday, September 11

Andretti, Petty union could end
Associated Press

It seemed the perfect marriage: Andretti and Petty, two of the most revered names in auto racing.

But things just haven't worked out the way John Andretti and Kyle Petty had hoped when Andretti signed with the Petty Enterprises team in 1998.

John Andretti
The marriage between John Andretti, pictured, and Petty Enterprises may be coming to an end.

In the nearly five seasons Andretti has driven for the team operated by the first family of NASCAR, he has one win and has not come close to matching the 11th-place points finish he had that first year.

Andretti's contract ends at the close of the 2002 season, and he could be moving on. His name has come up for just about every good ride that has become, or could become, available.

Andretti, who was testing a Petty Dodge at Dover on Tuesday and Wednesday, isn't saying yet what that decision will be. He was careful to give no real hint of his plans in an interview with The Associated Press.

"Any driver announcement is up to the team and the sponsor,'' Andretti said. "I'll let them take care of that when the time comes.''

"It would be easier to leave than it is to stay and work on things and make them better,'' he added. "But I believe in the Petty organization. I'm extremely close (to a decision).''

Petty, who runs the team based in Randleman, N.C., and is Andretti's teammate, also was in Dover for the test.

"We've made every effort we can to let him know we want him to be at Petty Enterprises,'' Petty said. "If he chooses to go somewhere else, then there's no hard feelings because John has been a friend and part of our family and will continue to be. We just need that decision fairly quick to be able to see what shakes out.''

No one could blame Andretti if he leaves the team that has been struggling for years. If he does go, though, it won't be because the team has let him down.

"I have no regrets,'' Andretti said. "I knew the situation and what was in front of us. I just thought things would get better sooner than later.''

Andretti, the nephew of racer Mario Andretti and cousin of CART star Michael Andretti, fully understands what's going on at Petty Enterprises.

"I dissect the company, study it, and I do it regularly,'' he said. "The team has come a long way, built a lot of things up from where we started to where we are now.''

That, however, has not been enough to get Andretti, Petty and a series of drivers in the team's third car past the middle of the pack through most of the season.

The team has a rich history. Kyle's grandfather, Lee, started the team and was a NASCAR pioneer and one of its first stars. Kyle's father, Richard, was the sport's biggest winner with 200 race victories and seven series championships -- matched only by the late Dale Earnhardt.

Richard retired in 1992, but is still considered "The King'' of stock car racing by the people in the NASCAR garage area and the fans. He did, however, turn over the day-to-day operation of the team to Kyle, who hasn't had many breaks since he took the reins.

The problems at Petty Enterprises have been magnified by three things that took place in 2000.

First, crew chief Robbie Loomis, considered one of the blossoming stars in NASCAR, left to team up with Jeff Gordon. Then the team switched from the Pontiacs it had used for many years to the all-new Dodges.

Finally, and with far more impact, Adam Petty, Kyle's 19-year-old son and the person he was rebuilding the team for, was killed in a crash in Loudon, N.H.

"Being a father myself, I can't even imagine what Kyle and the rest of the Petty family has gone through,'' Andretti said. "At that point, everything was geared toward Adam and his future.

"It was really looking like that was going to be a great thing for the company. The enthusiasm was extremely high.''

It took a while after Adam's death for the team to get back in stride, but Andretti said he believes Petty Enterprises has made big improvements, even if they are not yet very evident on the racetrack.

"Everything is better here, whether I stay or leave,'' Andretti said. "You don't get people like (new team general manager) Robin Pemberton to believe in what you're doing unless you're doing some things right.

"The competition is so strong, though, when you fall back you only need to fall back a little bit, and it's a lot. This team is a lot better in a lot of areas, even better than before Robbie left.''

The question now, though, is whether Andretti will be the next to leave.

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