Kyle Petty is part of one of the most famous families in motorsports. The son of the legendary Richard Petty, Kyle was a longtime Sprint Cup driver himself. He now lives in Charlotte and is part of NBC’s race broadcast team each week. I asked him five questions.
Q. Give me your scouting report on the four finalists this year at Homestead.
A. OK, let’s start with Kevin Harvick. He has had the fastest car consistently. He and his team have just been the guys for the past two years. They lead. They win. They contend.
Everybody is going to Homestead shooting at them. If they run their race, and the race goes straight up, they have to be the heavy favorite.
For Kyle Busch, here’s a driver who sat out 11 races this year because of severe injuries. And then he comes back, almost no one gives them a shot, and here he is.
Everyone always says the knock on Kyle is he can run the regular season great but he always seems to fall apart in the Chase. But since he’s only running 25 races, this is still his regular season. Things will have to fall their way to win, though. They have not had the speed to just outrun everybody for the last 2-3 months.
Martin Truex Jr. is the Cinderella story. He’s a No. 16 seed making it to the NCAA Final Four, even though you don’t know what state that team is in or what its mascot is. He came off a scandal at Michael Waltrip Racing, his career was on a downturn, and he picked himself up off the floor and got himself back in this position. This is David vs. Goliath, and out of four seeds left they are probably fourth. But you can’t measure the desire they’ve got.
And then there’s Jeff Gordon – all emotion, all sentiment. Jeff going into Homestead has hundreds of thousands of fans. He’s first for Jeff Gordon fans, of course, but he’s the second-favorite driver in this race for everybody else.
His team showed no speed all year long. Nothing. I had them honestly going out in the first round of the Chase. I’ve lost weight from eating so much crow on my Chase pick for Jeff Gordon.
But Jeff is a big-game player who always steps up in big moments. What he can do reminds me of my father going to Daytona of winning his 200th and final race in front of the president in 1984.
Q. So after all of that, who do you think will win?
A. I’d have to say Harvick.
Q. If you were Brian France, would you tweak the current Chase playoff format?
A. Not right now. And when they started this latest format, I was not a big fan. I felt like basically you were going to Homestead and you might as well take a deck of cards, draw the high card and that guy won.
But from a fan perspective, it ended up as one of the most exciting single-race Chases ever. So why do you tweak something like that?
Q. Aren’t you an amateur singer and songwriter?
A. Yes. I take a guitar with me everywhere I go on the road. I’m always looking for open mic nights. I’ve played a few places in Charlotte. It’s a hobby. By no stretch of the imagination is it something I could ever do for a living.
But it’s something I’ve done since I’ve been 12 years old – write and sing and play. I play kind of country-folk music. I used to listen to 8-tracks on the way to races – Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash – and AM radio stations that would fade out every 15 miles.
Actually, though, if I could have been anything in the world besides a race car driver, I would have been a writer. If I could start over, that’s what I would do.
Q. What are some of the things in your life you are most proud of?
A. Well, I have two favorite moments in racing. The first was when I was 18 years old, working with some guys at my Dad’s shop. I was still in high school. We had to hang a body on an Olds, and my Dad went down to Daytona and won the race in that car. It was the first car I really helped build that did something.
And then when Adam (Petty, Kyle’s son, who died in a race track wreck in 2000) won the ARCA race in Charlotte. He had an accident in practice and dang if he didn’t go out and win that (1998) race anyway.
Of course, I would also say Victory Junction (a free camp for children with health-care needs built on 84 acres in Randleman, founded in honor of Adam Petty). I don’t take credit for that, though. Adam had the idea, and NASCAR fans and drivers built that place.
And now I’ve fallen in love again, at age 55, and am getting ready to get married again. So life is good.