Petty team focuses on racing after turmoil

AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose are fired up and ready to go.

With a new partnership in hand, Richard Petty is comfortable and confident.

Can the team shake off last season and turn in its top performance in recent years?

The answer to that question could actually lie in the new roles of two men – Allmendinger, and Petty himself.

After all, this is pretty much their team now.

Allmendinger is the young team leader, the driver who has garnered respect for his increasing on-track competitiveness, but also for the way he helped guide the team through its late-season travails in 2010. He was the one who worked to keep the teams focused as the group struggled financially to get to the track for the final five races. Now, he’s the one who must propel Petty back among those teams competing for top finishes week to week.

Petty is the seven-time NASCAR champion and veteran team owner who has retaken control of the organization that bears his name. Now, he’s back in charge of the racing side of the business after partnering with the Medallion Financial Corp., led by Andrew Murstein, and Doug Bergeron. The way Petty sees it, racers run teams with more of an eye on competition. To him, this new partnership is perfect because the businessmen let the racers run it, and those partners aren’t out to make millions.

When he looks at Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, the organization’s 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, he sees a pair as hungry for success as the organization must be after the setbacks of last fall.

What does Allmendinger bring to the team?

“Determination,” Petty said. “All he wants to do is race. Marcos is the same way. … Their main concern is they want to race and anybody that wants to race, I’d rather have a racer that wants to race and draw him back than have a guy that’s out there and you got to push him to go get the job done.”

This year, Petty will transition from four teams to two – and return with only one driver who was with the team at the start of 2010.

Last year, the group opened the year merging with Yates Racing and switching to Fords. Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Allmendinger and Paul Menard were driving for the group. But Kahne departed late in the year for Red Bull Racing, Sadler has opted to pursue the Nationwide Series title for Kevin Harvick Inc. and Menard took his family sponsorship and moved to Richard Childress Racing.

Since then, Petty has added Ambrose and re-signed with sponsor Best Buy for Allmendinger and has Stanley as the primary backer for Ambrose as well as signing with a slate of other sponsors.

And now the group is ready to go racing.

As he prepares for the season, Allmendinger says he’s comfortable being the veteran of the group despite the fact that this will be only his fourth full season of Cup competition.

Now, he’s looking forward to a calmer season.

“Everything that we went through last year was tough, but I feel like everything that we had to fight to keep going is only gonna make us stronger on the other side,” he said. “I think it showed us internally what the team was all about and how strong we really wanted to be because we very easily could have fallen apart. Everybody could have gone and looked for other jobs and started fighting, but we got stronger.

“… We’ve got a ton of potential, but we know potential doesn’t mean anything if we don’t live up to it, so that’s our job. We’re gonna go out there and do everything that we can. We’ll get this thing in Victory Lane.”

Petty plans to do everything he can to help both Allmendinger and Ambrose get there.

He says that with the “racing crowd” in charge of things, the team will be able to get what it needs to gain ground. Plus, he doesn’t worry about the move from four teams to two because of his partnership with other Ford teams.

What does he see as the major difference with having a racer making the decisions?

“When the racing people look and they need something, they go get it,” he said. “They figure out a way to go get it.”

Financial people that he’s worked with in the past, he said, tend to stick more to the original plan – racers don’t limit their resources in the same way. Now, this new partnership group is just trying to break even and use their other businesses together. That allows him more freedom within the operation of the race team.

“Racers just throw the money in the middle of the pot and use it for tires, or cars or people where a lot of times the financial people say, ‘Hey you’ve done run out of money, you can’t buy no more tires or no more cars or whatever,’” he said.

Now, Petty plans to give his drivers what they need to win – on all types of courses.

That’s something pleasing to Ambrose. While he has enjoyed his greatest successes on road-course tracks, he’s working to round out his resume and has become an increasing threat on all layouts.

That’s what he wants to achieve this year.

“I feel like this is the best chance in my career ever to get the job done and I just can’t wait to get started,” he said. “With the help of Todd Parrott, a champion crew chief and a Daytona ring holder, I couldn’t ask for anyone better. I hope I can deliver on the racetrack.”

So does Petty.

As he looks over his 2011 program and his pair of drivers, he expresses a confidence he hasn’t felt in recent years. Petty sees this as a great chance to put what is now truly his organization once more back into the competitive NASCAR arena.

“I’ve been up, I’ve been down. I’ve been in between,” he said. “We feel like this is our best chance in the last five or six years to really go forward with Richard Petty Motorsports.”