Petty continues to adapt as car owner

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Oct 27, 2017 at 8:11 PM

Richard Petty was NASCAR’s most accomplished driver over his 35-year career with seven championships and 200 wins behind the wheel.

In the 33 years since getting out of the car, he has been perhaps the sport’s most resourceful car owner.

It was announced on Wednesday that Petty had hired Darrell Wallace Jr. to take over the iconic No. 43 ride for next season.

Wallace, who will become the Cup Series’ first full-time black driver since Wendell Scott, drove four races for Petty earlier this season when Aric Almirola was recovering from an injury. Wallace posted a solid effort in the car with his average finish of 17.8 better than the 19.4 which Almirola has averaged in 25 starts this season.

More than just announcing plans for next season, the move shows Petty’s ability to adapt to change.

The Monster Cup Series is at Martinsville, Va., this weekend, a place special to both Petty and Wallace. As a driver, Petty won a record 15 races around the flat, paper-clip shaped, short track. As an owner. Petty’s last two short-track wins came there with Bobby Hamilton Jr. and John Andretti. It’s also the track where in 2013 Wallace in a Truck Series became the first black driver in 50 years to win a NASCAR national event.

Now 80, Petty was dealt a blow at the end of last season when Brian Scott decided to retire from the driver’s seat and took with him the sponsorship necessary to run a second car. Earlier this season, it was announced that Smithfield which sponsors the No. 43 car would be moving over to Stewart-Haas Racing to what they described as a lack of competitiveness.

As a one-car team, the No. 43 has its challenges trying to compete with the likes of Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske. But as an owner, few have been more resilient than Petty, who has seen the team go through different incarnations as he’s teamed with different racers and business owners to keep the family name active.

Richard Petty Motorsports barely resembles the Petty Engineering which both Richard and his father, Lee, drove to NASCAR championships and produced Hall of Fame careers for themselves, engine builder Maurice Petty and crew chief Dale Inman.

The cars are no longer built at the Level Cross, N.C., shops which now serves as a museum for all of the great accomplishments of the past. Richard Petty Motorsports is housed on the campus of Roush Fenway Racing in Concord, N.C. While the team has a technical alliance with Roush, it hasn’t been much help with the Roush team’s only wins this season on the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega.

Still, the No. 43 team has been competitive compared to other teams of its size, and despite running seven fewer races, Almirola is only one position behind Danica Patrick in the driver standings. In the owner standings, Petty’s No. 43 car ranks 19th. It’s ahead of both Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 driven by Kasey Kahne and the No. 88 driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Truly not bad for a one-car team and a testament of how the driver who once ruled NASCAR as “The King” still remains a huge part of the sport as a crafty car owner.

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