Being 40th in owners points was bound to hurt eventually, but the pain began almost immediately going into the 6th race of the Sprint Cup season. Kyle Petty has missed his first race of the year. This being the first race where 2008 points are taken into consideration, Kyle Petty's dismal start to the season has caused him to miss the Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville.
Whispers have been going around saying that Kyle might step out of the car a little early, since he was planning to step out of the 45 Dodge anyway later in the season, when TNT takes over the television broadcasts of the races. Kyle might have to leave the ride even earlier just to try to get his car into the race.
Current rumors concern the possibility of Terry Labonte driving a few races in the car. There are a couple of advantages to this. Terry is a past champion, so would have 5 provisionals if needed. The other major, well, not sure if it's an advantage, but it would be a really cool thing, would be this: Terry would be teammates with his brother Bobby. I don't know if there is any truth to this, and what limited sources I have keep telling me that it won't happen, but I'm not sure that we can rule that out entirely.
Another possibility would be to bring in former Petty driver John Andretti for a few races. If John can qualify the car and make races, it will at least keep the sponsors happy. Another possibility is another driver, who has actually driven the car before as well. His name is Chad McCumbee, and he currently drives in the Craftsman Truck series. Chad stepped into the 45 car for 2 races last year while Kyle was doing TV duties, and did a pretty decent job. Petty has openly discussed having Chad eventually replace him in the 45, so why not let him get some races in sooner than expected?
Kyle has had problems qualifying in the past for races. In 2003, Kyle missed 3 races. In 2004, Kyle missed 1. Missing this race at Martinsville will just put him deeper into the hole, and trying to dig his way out of such a deficit could be disaster for the 45 team.
To be quite honest, I think Kyle lost a lot of his passion for the sport after his son Adam was killed while practicing at New Hampshire in 2000. Kyle, then the driver of the 44 car, switched numbers and drove the 45 in honor of Adam's memory. I don't know that Kyle ever truly had the passion for racing that his famous father Richard did, or for that matter his grandfather Lee. Kyle has raced hard all his life, but he's always had a lot of other interests. He's one of the nicest drivers in the garage, and I always enjoy listening to him on Trading Paint and when he's in the booth on TNT. Kyle has done remarkable things in his career, both on and off the track. He created the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, which has raised money for charities for years. Along with wife Patti, he started the Victory Junction Gang Camp which helps hundreds of sick children every year. Kyle Petty is a great race car driver, but more importantly, he is a great man. His efforts have touched the lives of countless kids and their families.
Kyle Petty has won 8 races and 8 poles in 819 Cup starts. He ran his first race in 1979 at age 19, and on June 2, he will be 48 years old. His greatest legacy will not be what he has done on the track, but what he has done off the track. Kyle has long been more than a driver at Petty Enterprises. He's basically tried to do every job there was to be done, and has helped propel Petty teams from a bottom tier team to a team that features veteran Bobby Labonte getting closer and closer to Petty's first win in almost 10 years. As sad as I will be to see Kyle finally hang up his helmet, I feel some pain, as a long time fan of the sport, memories of watching his dad struggling the last few years of his driving career to stay competitive in the sport.
Petty is a team that technology and innovation left behind. After Richard's day as the winningest driver in the history of the sport, the Petty operation just seemed to almost implode upon itself. Adam's death just about sealed the deal.
Kyle fought back, and along with Bobby Labonte, they have helped bring the team back from the brink. I hope to see them come full circle with a visit to Victory Lane soon.