Petty doesn't think comparisons to Hendrick valid
First to 200 says eras and mindset have two teams in very different places
By Mark Aumann, NASCAR.COM
May 14, 2012 11:49 AM, EDT
Comparing Hendrick Motorsports' 200 Cup wins to what Petty Enterprises accomplished during its heyday isn't like apples and oranges. It's more like comparing drum brakes to discs, or a 1964 Plymouth Belvedere to a Car of Tomorrow.
That's the opinion of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who contributed the lion's share of Petty Enterprises' 268 victories.
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"Our 200 wins came with one driver, not with a whole bunch of drivers," Petty said. "From 1960 to 1984, I won 200 races. And he's trying to do it with a bunch of different drivers and a bunch of different folks. That's fine. I'm glad he's been able to accomplish that kind of stuff. But the circumstances are so much different now than what it used to be."
That's not to take away from what Rick Hendrick and his organization have done, Petty said. But today's racing is a far different animal than when Richard's father, Lee, borrowed a car -- and wound up wrecking it -- for the inaugural Cup race at the old dirt Charlotte Speedway.
"We operated strictly as a family team: my dad and myself, my brother, Dale Inman and seven or eight other guys," Petty said. "We built the motors, we did the body, took it to the race track, did all the pitting."
From the time Lee Petty scored the team's first victory at Heidelberg Speedway near Pittsburgh in 1949 until Richard's 200th win at Daytona in 1984, Petty Enterprises was arguably the premier operation of its day.
And the statistical comparison between the two organizations bears that out. For example, both Hendrick and Petty cars have finished in the top 10 in 44.7 percent of their starts. And the average finishes in all races: Petty with 15.5, Hendrick with 15.6.
Even though its last victory came at Martinsville in 1999 -- with John Andretti behind the wheel -- Petty Enterprises remains atop of the all-time winner's list with a total of 268 wins, or a win in nearly every 10 starts.
Still, when it comes to Hendrick's dominance -- having won 10 of the past 16 Cup championships -- Petty can't help but be amazed.
"It impresses me that they've been able to do what they've done, win all those championships and all those races -- and still be able to operate with three or four cars," Petty said. "That takes so much money and planning and everything to make it work. They have a heck of an organization."
But having the finances -- and the manpower -- to run multiple teams is part of the reason why Hendrick has been so successful, in Petty's mind.
"With his operation, there's usually one of the three or four cars that's had a good year," Petty said. "He's never had them where they've had twin years, where both of them have won a bunch of races and championships. It looks like things work for somebody for a little while and then the stars line up for somebody else."
There's an old saying that racing runs on cubic dollars. And you do have to have a large checkbook to be competitive, particularly as the technology continues to evolve. But Petty is under the belief that money can't buy you wins or championships. And that's why Rick Hendrick's consistency is so impressive.
"You look at what Smoke [Tony Stewart] did last year, putting that thing together and doing all of that deal, in the second year coming out and winning the championship. You don't really know. There's no set formula for success in racing.
"Racing is so fickle with the circumstances and stuff that you've got to work under -- what the other drivers do, what NASCAR does if they throw a caution flag, when somebody blows a motor in front of you -- there's so many facets to that. It's hard to be able to do and deal and continue with it."
When asked if there will ever be another team to rival what Petty Enterprises was able to accomplish, Petty is quick to respond.
"NASCAR's completely different than what it was," Petty said. "We started as a family team, with no sponsor. Dad drove the race car and did all the thinking, and mother kept all the money. And the money came all out of the purse. There's no way to make that deal work now.
"It's so technical and it's gotten so expensive, it's not a one-man show any more. They've wound up making it more complicated-looking, basically. It started out strictly as a sport, and now it's turned into a big, big business."