2006 Ride: No. 45 Wells Fargo/Schwan’s/Marathon Oil/NTB/Coca-Cola Dodge
2006 Owner: Kyle Petty/Petty Enterprises
2006 Crew Chiefs: Paul Andrews (Feb.-Sept.), Billy Wilburn (Sept.-Nov.)
Stats: 36 races, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 2 top 10s, 32nd in points
High Point: Petty’s best finish on the year was an eighth at Bristol in the spring, but the high point of the season might have come after he fought his way back into the Top 35 in owner points to end the season after falling approximately 100 points behind Sterling Marlin‘s team. The late-season surge seems to be tied into an in-house move that clearly worked in Petty’s favor. When teammate Bobby Labonte lost crew chief Todd Parrott and began struggling with Parrott’s replacement, Greg Steadman, Petty shuffled the deck, sending his own crew chief, Paul Andrews, over to the No. 43 and bringing in former Penske Racing crew chief Billy Wilburn.
Wilburn, who had most recently guided David Gilliland to his upset win in the Busch Series, reinvigorated Petty’s team with his fresh ideas and positive energy. Determined to secure a starting spot in the first five races of ’07, Petty responded by rolling off five results of 25th or better, including three top-20 finishes, to get back inside the owner points just in the nick of time; now, the team can breathe easy despite all the strong competition entering the sport in ’07.
Low Point: Petty would probably be thrilled if NASCAR deleted the Pocono dates from the schedule altogether. An accident left him 40th at the Pocono 500 on June 11, and another hard crash gave him a 42nd-place finish in the Pennsylvania 500 July 23. The first Pocono disaster started a mind-boggling slump of 17 races in which Petty finished higher than 25th only once (21st at Infineon on June 25).
Summary: Petty’s results weren’t much better in 2006 than in 2005, but he had competitive cars more often and ran up front in a few races. Racing his way back into the Top 35 in owner points, however, was a huge accomplishment and brought out grit and fire that Petty hadn’t displayed in years.
2007 Outlook: If Petty can secure Wilburn as his crew chief for an entire season, things could get interesting over at the No. 45 camp for the first time in quite a while. As long as Evernham Motorsports keeps supplying this team with strong motors, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to even see Petty in the top five for a couple of races in 2007. Wins, however, still seem out of reach, as does making the Chase for the Championship.
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