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Kyle Petty

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The latest news out of Petty Enterprises, Inc. has Chad McCumbee penciled in to drive the No. 45 Dodge in place of Kyle Petty at Pocono. This is the second unscheduled absence in as many weeks by the 30-year NASCAR Cup veteran, and very possibly an indication that his career as a driver may abruptly be coming to a close. The 48-year-old Petty, who for the second year in a row took six races off to be a color analyst for TNT's Sprint Cup broadcasts, had also been scheduled to race last week at Indianapolis. Instead, two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte — who relieved Petty during his TV sabbatical - drove the car in what was an apparent last minute decision by team management. Neither Petty nor the organization that he once ran as well as drove for has seen fit to publicly comment ever since, apart from a schedule released Tuesday that put Petty back behind the seat of the No. 45 at Watkins Glen. But Labonte was also revealed as a substitute for Michigan the following week, with future driving plans for the program left up in the air. At the very least, the son of stock car legend Richard Petty appears far from a lock to drive for the team in 2009 — or even for the rest of 2008.

Petty Enterprises, Inc. partnered with Boston Ventures earlier this year, with the private equity firm acquiring controlling interest of the two-car organization. Previously, PE had been a family-owned and operated race team for almost 60 years. However, just last month a Board of Directors was put in place along with an infusion of cash from the new partner, and they are now responsible for the team's business decisions — not the Pettys themselves. That management change — while good for the long-term health of the program — may very well have sealed Kyle's fate as a driver.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this turn of events is that Kyle Petty may not be able to leave the sport as he would have liked. It would have been preferable for the well liked and respected wheelman to be able to leave the seat of his beloved No. 45 under more dignified circumstances. Instead, it appears that he will leave due to a cold and dispassionate business calculation, abruptly pushed aside as part of a corporate reshuffling — a cruel reminder of the state of the NASCAR Cup Series today.


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