Happy Birthday to The King, Richard Petty: ’80 years is pretty cool’

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For most of his life, two simple yet profound words have defined him: The King.

Richard Petty hasn’t just been part of NASCAR for more than 50 years, he’s been its unchallenged, unanimous King.

Without question, Petty is the most prolific racer the sport has ever seen:

He won 200 races in the iconic No. 43 — painted, what else, “Petty Blue” — a record that likely will never be broken.

He was the first to win seven championships in NASCAR’s premier racing series.

He made an incredulous 1,184 starts over 35 years of racing. No one else has come close.

One more thing of note about those 1,184 starts: included in that number was the afore-mentioned 200 wins, as well as 555 top-fives and 712 top 10s, plus 123 poles.

That means Petty finished 10th or better in just under 64 percent of his starts.

He also was part of the first class to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, chosen along with four other individuals – Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson – who had the biggest impact in building the sport into what it has become.

While Petty retired as an active driver in 1992 at the age of 55, he traded in his helmet for his trademark Charley One Horse cowboy hat, continuing on at the helm of one of the most iconic teams in NASCAR history, the aptly-named Richard Petty Motorsports.

Which brings us to today, a most special day indeed, one that by NASCAR terms should be the equivalent of a national holiday:

Happy 80th birthday, King.

To fete Petty’s milestone birthday, NASCAR Talk brings you comments from Petty’s media conference Friday at Daytona International Speedway, as well as several of today’s top drivers on the influence he had on them.

First off, King, how has the sport changed from your driving days to today?

“The only thing that’s the same about racing is they throw the green flag when they start and the checkered flag when it’s over,” Petty said. “Everything else is different.

“All the PR about it, all the cars are different. The drivers are different. Each one of the people I talk about come from a different generation, so they look at different things in a different light.

“(Richard’s son) Kyle looked at things differently than I looked at things, and I looked at things different than my father looked at things just because of the generations and what we grew up with and what our circumstances were.

“So you can’t compare apples and oranges. It’s a deal that a lot of us have been fortunate enough to lead the pack at a different time, but I don’t see any one of the leaders being above the rest of the crowd, that’s just what it took to get us where we’re at.”

Always the fan favorite. This is The King’s kingdom.

RPM is an extension of what began as Petty Enterprises 68 years ago in 1949 in Randleman, North Carolina. It was founded by Lee Petty and his two sons, Maurice and Richard, who was 12 at the time.

Even though Petty Enterprises folded after the 2008 season, it regrouped and reformed the following season in a merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, being rechristened Richard Petty Motorsports.

RPM has struggled at times over the years, including dropping to a one-car operation for 2017 (although it has hopes of returning to a two-car operation perhaps by 2018 or 2019).

Some wonder that with Petty now turning 80, what will the future of RPM be.

“As long as I’ll be here, there’ll probably be one,” Petty said. “I don’t know if Kyle wants to take up the mallet or not.

“It’s just an idea that everybody goes through ups and downs, ins and outs. NASCAR, all the rule changes, points standings, they’re trying to do everything they can to upgrade and bring back spectators.

“Well, we’re doing the same thing only we’re struggling making sure (sponsor) Smithfield signs up for another year, and Air Force does, and we have to deal with the race car and all the people, so it’s a never-ending deal.

“If you talk to me or talk to any other teams, everyone is up in the air at this time of year most of the time trying to figure out where are we with what can do next year.

“Right now, things are looking decent (for the near future). I won’t say they’re looking great or looking bad, but we’re in the middle of some transitions deals here and should be in pretty good shape.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver the last 14 years. But if you look over Petty’s 68 years in the sport, it’s hard to disagree he’s not been the sport’s most popular personality during that time.

“I think somebody figured the other day that probably (signed) close to 2 million autographs over a period of time,” he said. “That’s a bunch of autographs, but that’s still thank you.

“Those are the people who put me in business and the reason you’re here. If it wasn’t for the fans, you probably would have to go to work for a living.

“I have a lot of people come up who say my granddaddy used to come, my dad come, my dad brought me to the first race, I’m still coming. It’s still a way to get new fans and new things going on.”

The future of the sport, where it’s been and where it’s going, is on Petty’s mind both today and what it will eventually come to be when his final legacy is written.

“You’ve got to figure there is so much going on for young people, old people,” he said. “Nobody’s got time to sit for 4-5 hours and watch races anymore. If it lasts more than 15-20 minutes, we’re going to get our Google machine out and start punching buttons and doing something else.

“The deal there is keeping as many fans as we can, but the big deal is all those fans that used to be Richard Petty fans, there is always Richard Petty, so they’re not going to be able to come anymore.

“So we’ve got to attract the next generation. How we do that, everybody’s looking at trying to figure that out. My dad’s generation, Kyle’s generation, this is a whole different generation of people, and they’re looking at things so much different than what we did 10 to 15 years ago.

“So how do we tap into those people to keep our sport alive? It’ll take everybody to do it. Takes (the media) to do it, takes us to do it, takes NASCAR, takes TV, takes everybody in order to get to the people. There are 330 million people out there, we ought to be able to get to 50-100,000 every weekend. That’s what it’s going to take.”

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In addition to being a fan favorite, Petty has influenced countless drivers in the sport over the last seven decades.

We asked some of NASCAR’s present stars what impact The King had upon their own racing careers. Here are their thoughts:

Jimmie Johnson: “It was ’85 or ’86, I went to Riverside and saw him come through in that Petty blue car through the esses. I knew who he was but that certainly left a lasting impression in my mind to see him in person, The King. That’s a point in time when I think there was only Elvis Presley was the King, we didn’t have LeBron James.

“I saw The King in action, which was really, really cool. As my career progressed into NASCAR racing, I was around the Petty family quite a bit, competing against Adam Petty in the ASA ranks and Busch Grand National. I feel very, fortunate to be able to get to know him on a different level, also Kyle and Adam and that whole time was a lot of fun.

“Even though Adam and I were very competitive against one another on the track, (the Petty Family) treated me with open arms and were very kind and giving and I think that just speaks to the people they are and honestly, just the way Richard is in general. I also feel that we’re very fortunate to have King still in our sport.”

Brad Keselowski: “You don’t get the nickname the “King” for nothing. He’s leaving a legacy that won’t even be touched by any other driver. Maybe even any athlete in the sports world. I would put him on par with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and all those guys. What they’ve meant to golf.

“I can’t think of anyone in football or hockey. He’s still here. He’s still in the garage every day. He’s been retired for 25 years and he’s still in the garage every race week. He still has a team that he actively participates in. He’s still invested in the sport.

“You still see him promoting the sport with different things whether it’s when NASCAR goes to the White House or trips to New York or any of those things. He’s active with the Hall of Fame. Twenty-five years later!

“I don’t know where I’m going to be when I retire, I hope it’s a long way off. But I doubt that I will still be here every week. Let alone from all the success that he’s had on the race track, there’s just so many facets to his legacy that I feel bad sitting up here and trying to talk about it because I know that I’m missing so many pieces because of everything he’s meant to the sport. We’re lucky that he’s in our sport and not in another sport.”

DALE EARNHARDT JR. (in a 2013 ESPN interview): “You can’t have more respect for anybody than Richard has in the sport, for what his family did. Every sport has a ‘guy’ that personifies what the sport is about, and almost creates what the sport is on his own.

“He’s seen it all, and he was a part of it all. And he was successful throughout that entire time. He showed all the drivers how to work with fans, how to treat everybody with respect — how to sign every autograph.

“That was the whole thing about Richard — first thing I heard is he signs every autograph. And that’s how it’s going to be: If you are going to be a race car driver, that’s the way you need to do it.

“There are certain people in certain sports that are remembered for leaving their mark, and nobody left a bigger mark than Richard.”

Petty’s legacy has arguably transcended anyone else in the history of the sport. Sure, you can make an argument for the sport’s founder and his successor – Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. – but when it comes to any other driver, team owner or crew chief, no one can beat the king for legacy, longevity, success and popularity.

Even the sport’s youngest stars, many who weren’t even around when he was racing, know the impact The King left upon the sport – and continues to leave.

Chase Elliott: I remember him being around the race track when Dad (Bill Elliott) was racing full time and we were coming to the track every weekend. I remember him still being very involved.

“The biggest thing with him over the years is the guy hasn’t changed a bit. You see him in the garage, he is over there poking at tires, looking at cars and walking over, seeing what you’ve got in your car, knowing you are not going to tell him no. He is going to come over there and check it out anyway.

“Awesome guy. Certainly a great ambassador for our sport. You don’t see many people who had the career he had have that still come to the race track and show the passion he does every weekend. That’s pretty cool. Happy birthday to him. 80 years is pretty cool.”

Indeed, 80 years really is pretty cool. Happy birthday, King. May you have 80 more.

Contributing: Nate Ryan, Dustin Long.

 

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Jay Fabian named Cup Series Managing Director

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NASCAR announced it has named Jay Fabian as the Cup Series managing director, replacing Richard Buck.

NASCAR confirmed Buck is no longer with the company, which underwent significant layoffs last week. Buck had served as the managing director of the Cup Series since January 2014.

Fabian movies into the position after serving as the managing director of technical integration at NASCAR, where he oversaw post-race technical inspection at the NASCAR Research and Development Center.

Fabian’s experience includes serving as an over-the-wall crew member, a crew chief and a 10-year tenure at the defunct Michael Waltrip Racing.

Jay Fabian (YouTube)

A native of Everett, Pennsylvania, Fabian joined NASCAR in April 2016.

“With his vast experience across the industry, Jay Fabian is uniquely suited for this position,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer said in a press release. “Jay’s steady leadership and depth of knowledge are tremendous assets that will greatly benefit the series and all of NASCAR.”

Fabian will report directly to Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition.

“This is a fast-paced sport that is constantly evolving, and I’m thankful for this opportunity and eager to take on the challenge,” Fabian said a press release. “Racing has been my passion for as long as I can remember. There is growing anticipation for the 2019 season, and I’m looking forward to being a part of an outstanding team that will help build our sport.”

Fabian’s passion for racing stretches to his own son’s career.

He documents Brady Fabian’s karting career frequently on Twitter.

Mike Wallace ready to make another run at NASCAR Cup racing

Mike Wallace before his last Cup start, the 2015 Daytona 500. Photo: Getty Images
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When Mike Wallace developed a heart issue that resulted in triple bypass surgery in April 2015, it left the veteran NASCAR driver with unfinished business in his racing career.

Now, nearly four years later and fully healthy, the 59-year-old brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and Kenny Wallace hopes to finish some of that business in the 2019 season with Rick Ware Racing.

“I still have that passion,” Mike Wallace told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “I didn’t quit. I didn’t stop racing in 2015 on my own terms. And I’m very comfortable with life. It’s not like I have to do this to complete it, but I just like racing, I like it a lot, I like to be behind the wheel.”

Rick Ware Racing has two NASCAR Cup charters for 2019, which means both the No. 51 and No. 52 must run every race. Ware has offered one of those rides to Wallace, but the latter has to attract more sponsorship.

“Rick reached out, asked me to drive for him, but we have to find some money,” Wallace said. “Rick’s not in a position to hire a driver straight out. So we have a little bit of associate sponsorship put together. But we need sponsorship dollars to complete the package.

“It could be a great deal for him and his team, a great deal for me and it’s an incredibly reasonable, great opportunity for a marketing partner or partners to get involved, because you probably couldn’t get yourself into this sport and the NASCAR business any more reasonable than you can right now.”

Wallace posted on both LinkedIn and Facebook in the last couple of days seeking sponsors for the No. 52 car that he hopes to drive all season, with the exception of the Daytona 500 (although if a primary sponsor steps forward in the next week, Wallace could potentially still compete in that race).

“I know because of my age, Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs, people like that aren’t going to be calling for me to drive their cars, so why not do it if you can do it,” said Wallace, who turns 60 in March. “I still think I’m alert, healthy, have done every test you can do, have great endurance, eyesight, everybody says I’m good to go.

“Passion drives my desire. I’ve always had a passion for being a race car driver and motorsports and the NASCAR world. NASCAR racing is the coolest thing in the country.”

For now, Wallace said he and Ware have enough sponsor dollars to field the No. 52 for Atlanta, California and Las Vegas for starters.

“We worked together years ago, Rick actually fielded my daughter Chrissy in 2007-2008 era, I’ve raced against him or cars he’s owned forever,” Wallace said. “As he told me, he’d like to have a nice season with a driver like myself who can win races and run competitively and take care of equipment. We just have to make it work (financially).”

Wallace and son Matt competed in Super Late Model competition last year and it whetted the elder Wallace’s appetite to give NASCAR another go.

Wallace has made 197 Cup starts, the last race coming in 2015 (Daytona 500) just before his heart issue. He also has a combined 609 starts across both the Xfinity and Truck series, with a combined nine wins and 55 top-5 finishes.

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Joey Gase joins MBM Motorsports in Xfinity, Cup

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MBM Motorsports announced Wednesday it has signed Joey Gase to compete for the team in the Xfinity and Cup Series this season.

Gase will compete full-time in Xfinity driving the No. 35 Toyota. He will race part-time in Cup in the No. 66 Toyota, beginning with an attempt to make the Daytona 500. MBM does not have a charter for the No. 66, meaning he must qualify for the race if there are more than 40 cars entered.

Gase has 208 Xfinity starts and has competed full-time since 2014. Last year he drove for Go Green Racing and finished 20th in the standings.

He also has 30 Cup starts since 2014.

“I am very excited and thankful for the opportunity Carl (Long) and MBM Motorsports is giving me this year,” Gase said in a press release. “Every offseason is stressful when you don’t know what your plans for the following season will be. This offseason by far has been the most stressful of my career with some unforeseen things happening. One evening I was sitting in my office trying to figure out what my next move should be and then out of the blue Carl gave me a call and we talked for about two hours over the phone and now here we are. MBM Motorsports has grown and improved their program a lot over the last two years, especially the end of last season. I am very excited to be a part of that growth in 2019.”

Eternal Fan, Donate Life, Medline, Agri Supply, Pro Master and Page Construction will be among the partners supporting Gase this season.

“Having an experienced driver in Joey Gase to start our season is a huge blessing,” MBM team owner Carl Long said in the press release. “He has worked hard to bring sponsorship to MBM. Today’s driver has to be gifted in handling a car and promotions. Lucky for us Joey is one of the best in all of NASCAR at doing both. Look for us to turn heads this year!”

 

Ryan Truex to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing at Daytona

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Ryan Truex will attempt to make the Daytona 500 driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, the team announced Wednesday.

The team does not have a charter for the No. 71 Chevrolet.

“I am very thankful to TBR and Tommy Baldwin for this opportunity and can’t wait to get to Daytona and back in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car,” Ryan Truex said in a statement from the team. “The pressure is on to make it into the race, but Tommy is a true racer, and I know he will put everything into the car to give us a great shot.”

“I’m excited to have Ryan back in a Tommy Baldwin Racing car,” team owner Tommy Baldwin said in a statement. “We had success at Daytona in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, in the past. I’ve known the Truex family a very long time, and it’s special that we’ll be able to compete in the Daytona 500 together, and hopefully more races as the year goes on. We are still in search of a primary sponsor that we’re hoping to put together in time to give TBR a great run this year!”

Truex, the younger brother of Martin Truex Jr., last ran in Cup in 2014 when he competed in 23 races for BK Racing. Truex ran for Kaulig Racing last year in the Xfinity Series, finishing 12th in the points. Truex drove for Hattori Racing in 2017 in the Truck Series, placing ninth in points.