2007 Ride: No. 45 Petty Enterprises Dodge
2007 Primary Sponsor: Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil, Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola, National Tire & Battery
2007 Owner: Kyle Petty
2007 Crew Chief: Billy Wilburn
Stats: 29 races, zero wins, one top five, one top 10, 35th in points.
High Point: Whether it be in the television booth or on the track, 2007 was a forgettable year for Petty. Despite handing over his ride for a handful of races to explore what it will undoubtedly be a post-NASCAR career as an analyst, Petty returned behind the wheel and fought hard each week down the stretch to stay inside the Top 35 in owner points. In a year filled with hardship, the highlight of Petty’s season came at the Coca-Cola 600 in May, when the 47-year-old driver recorded his best finish (third) since Dover, 1997.
Low Point: Mark TNT’s “in-car commentator” idea down as a failed experiment. After already breaking into Petty leading his team through a pre-race prayer, the producers made the blunder of 2007 when they aired a replay from an incident involving Petty that included an obscenity. What ensued was one of the more awkward moments in a NASCAR broadcast in quite sometime, clearly not what the segment was supposed to produce.
Of course, the error was certainly not Petty’s fault; in fact, he was a victim of the replay. But he should have known he was miked up for the race.
A stretch of events in late August and early September saw Petty fall within one point of 35th in owner points. That stretch came after a five-race span in early August when the No. 45 team failed to finish a race better than 30th with Petty in the TNT booth. The height of Petty’s frustration came at Dover on Sept. 22 when he confronted Denny Hamlin in the garage following a lap 204 crash. That dropped him to 34th in owner points, just one point away from 35th. It was the closest Petty came to following out of the Top 35… but he never did.
Summary: It was an up-and-down year, but in the end Petty found himself where many other drivers wanted to be – inside the Top 35. There may have been some bumps in the road this season, but one thing that is certain is that no one can blame Petty for not being competitive or still having the fire. Whether it be the TNT blunder or the Hamlin altercation, both incidents proved that Petty is on the track for one reason – to win and be competitive.
Case in point: after falling dangerously close to falling out of the Top 35, Petty responded with finishes of 28th, 18th, 21st and 13th through his next four races to give himself some much-needed breathing room down the stretch. Petty also ran strong enough over the final month of the season that he virtually clinched a spot in the Top 35 after the Phoenix race, one week before the series ended the season in Homestead.
2008 Outlook: Petty hasn’t been consistently competitive for over a decade now and with the competition continuing to get stronger, it should be much of the same next season. The biggest thing for Petty at the end of 2007 was to ensure a spot in the first five races of 2008, and he was able to get that done. If he can post solid finishes in those first five races next season, he should be able to put some distance on those on the edge of the Top-35 bubble early in the year.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: C
2007 Grade: C
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley. Want to know when your favorite driver’s getting featured?