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‘Mind over matter’ philosophy keeps ‘The King’ going as he nears 80

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Richard Petty has been through a lot in nearly 80 years of life and 35 years of NASCAR racing.

“The King” has broken bones, had parts of his stomach and gallbladder removed and survived a brush with prostate cancer in 1995.

“I got a really good DNA as far as healing,” Petty said last month at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

After all the battle scars sustained through 1,184 Cup races and afterward, Petty feels like he did the day he retired in 1992.

“My daddy (Lee Petty) always said,’ I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel when you’re this old,’ ” Petty said. “So, I don’t know if I’m 80 or 70 or 50. Basically, physically … I don’t hurt nowhere right now. … I don’t feel like I feel any different than 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago.”

Still a constant presence on the Cup circuit, the seven-time NASCAR champion can be seen in the garage and pits in his trademark cowboy hat and sunglasses serving in his roles of team owner and NASCAR ambassador.

And don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

“That is part of it,” Petty said. “If you own the team and you’re not interested in going to see what happens, that can’t be good morale for the team. I go because I want to go, too. I enjoy being around and watching all the stuff. You go in there and try to give them … they don’t listen to what I want them to do. At least give them support, ‘You guys can do this, you can, just keep working at it.’ It’s a confidence-builder for them to know I pay the bills, but I’m also interested in what comes out in the end.”

Photo by Daniel McFadin

Three months from celebrating his 80th birthday (on July 2), Petty is able to see his family’s story documented in the Hall of Fame’s “Petty: Building a Family Legacy” exhibit, which runs until July.

But according to NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty, his father wouldn’t have made it this far if not for fulfilling his desire to keep tabs on Richard Petty Motorsports and NASCAR.

“My sisters and I have talked about it,” Kyle Petty said. “If it wasn’t for racing, he wouldn’t make it to 80. … Because he would just sit down and stop. He wouldn’t have anything to do.

“If it wasn’t for racing people and being able to walk through that garage and talk to people, yeah, he wouldn’t have made it this far.”

His father agrees.

“Mentally, I couldn’t do it,” Richard Petty said. “I’m a strong believer in mind over matter. You do what your mind tells you to do, whether your body wants to do it or whatever. I think that’s what kept me going from that standpoint.”

If not for racing, the Petty family’s trajectory might not have taken them far from Level Cross, North Carolina, where Lee and Elizabeth Petty raised their family. Richard and Kyle attended the same school in Randleman. The small student body meant Richard was one of 13 or 14 members of the football team and a performer in the marching band that played at halftime.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

This part of “The King’s” life is touched on in the Hall of Fame exhibit by his trumpet.

But it was the music provided by stock-car engines that fueled the Pettys.

“We lived on a dirt road and all the guys around us were the same way,” Richard Petty said. “They had nothing. So I didn’t know that until dad started racing. We’d go to Greensboro, we’d go to Martinsville or we’d go to Philadelphia. They had indoor plumbing, this is great. We grew up in that era. So that made you appreciate all the stuff going on. … Racing was all I ever knew. We raised a garden, so I knew how to raise a garden, but I didn’t know how to farm. I didn’t know how to be in the lumber business like my granddaddy was. I didn’t want to be in the liquor business.”

Because the Pettys pursued racing instead of farming – and liquor – the Buick Regal driven by Richard Petty to his seventh and final Daytona 500 win in 1981 sits next to a replica of the 1959 Oldsmobile Lee Petty drove in his own Hall of Fame career.

Not far away is the No. 42 Pontiac Grand Prix Kyle Petty drove to one of his eight Cup wins. Next to it is a No. 45 Monte Carlo Kyle’s son Adam drove in his tragically brief career.

Display cases show letters, typewriters, pictures, trophies and oddities that make up the Petty story.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

Not many athletes, in auto racing or any sport, can say the end of their career was honored by a comic book.

The exhibit chronicles the family dynasty and its many contributors, from Richard’s brother and engine builder, Maurice Petty, to his cousin and crew chief, Dale Inman, and his late wife, Lynda.

What does Richard Petty hope today’s generation of drivers can learn from the family oriented exhibit and the Hall of Fame as whole?

“I would like for the next generations coming in to go back and appreciate what Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Lee Petty and Fireball Roberts did,” he said. “Because if it hadn’t been for them, they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. I hope they don’t get away from who built the fan base. I was just part of the foundation. … It took all of us to do it. I hope that they don’t think they’re the ones making it happen.”

But Richard Petty still is helping to build the sport, 25 years after he last took a checkered flag.

Don’t expect him to ever hold a news conference in Daytona announcing he’s stepping away from the sport full time.

“That would go over like a lead balloon,” he said. “I don’t want to start a new life. I’ve been going to races for 68 years since 1949. I don’t know I wouldn’t cut back on going to all the races. But I’m still interested in being nosy enough to know who’s doing what.”

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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It’s once again elimination time in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers following today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. will be looking to earn his sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this year. He won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which will air on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jay Hernandez will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 80. Stage 2 ends at Lap 160.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver-crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Angie Rosner will perform the anthem at 3:01 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBCSN will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 19 laps to win in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the defending winner of this race. He beat Carl Edwards and Joey Logano last October.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup