Racing insider: Petty still giving it his all
Richard Petty couldn't help but smile after being asked about NASCAR's decision to drop the hammer on teams pushing the envelope when challenging the sometimes-ambiguous rules protecting the integrity of the new Gen-6 car.
First, Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were docked 25 championship points for using unauthorized suspension systems. On Wednesday, Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing were stripped of 50 championships points for using an engine that failed last Sunday's post-race inspection.
And Kenseth's crew chief, Jason Ratcliffe, was fined $200,000 and suspended for the next six Sprint Cup events. Car owner Joe Gibbs was docked 50 owners' points and had his license suspended for six races, during which he will be ineligible to receive owners' points.
“It used to be you go as far as you can without getting caught,” Petty said. “We got caught on a couple of things at Petty Enterprises, but, on the other hand, look at all the stuff we got by with. It's so much tougher now because we have so many different rules and NASCAR has so much more control.”
It's been nearly 21 years since Petty last took the No. 43 for a spin in a Sprint Cup race. But he's kept a watchful eye on the sport while perched atop a hauler.
However, race weekends have hardly consumed the King. The seven-time Cup champion remains the face of a sport he helped usher into the mainstream. More impressively, he has become an endearing ambassador for NASCAR.
Few have given so much and expected so little in return. Petty, an iconic figure even today, donates his money, time and wisdom to myriad charities and causes.
And he does it almost instinctively, if not habitually.
“I never really think about it,” Petty said while preparing his team for last weekend's race at Kansas Speedway. “I just do it.
“I realized that without the fans and stuff like that, there wouldn't be a Richard Petty. Whatever you can do to be good to the fans to show them they are main source of the sport, it becomes a natural deal.”
Petty transitions easily from one charity event to another. He was loading boxes of food on a truck in Kansas last Saturday then riding a motorcycle across the country as part of a weeklong effort to raise money for his Victory Junction program.
It's exhausting yet rewarding work. And it has come to define him as much as his illustrious career.
“It's a part of my life,” Petty said. “You sit down you realize how lucky some of us are to be in this position.”
Petty's charities are hoping to help Farmland Foods raise more than $100,000 to provide meals for more than 100,000 families in the Kansas City, Kan., area. In addition, 43 cases of Farmland products were donated in honor of the No. 43 Ford made famous by Petty.
For some, the sport owes Petty. But he's convinced there's plenty more to do with his charities.
“He is a very sincere and humble man. There's not an ounce of pretentiousness,” said Mike Brown, president and chief operating officer of Farmland Foods. “It's easy to work with him because you're not worried about bumping and stepping on somebody's ego.
“His legacy is about all the folks he has put in place to do well. I can't ever see him retiring. He worries about the day he can't come to the race — and the day he can't help others.”
Still, Petty continues to help rebuild NASCAR's image and brand, which has endured ups and downs over the past decade.
“I came along when the sport was being built,” Petty said. “I was just along for the ride.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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