Petty sounds pretty good in the booth |

Petty sounds pretty good in the booth

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Move over, Darrel Waltrip, you have competition. I have been mightily impressed by Kyle Petty’s performance the past couple of weeks as he has moved from the driver’s seat to the announcer’s booth.

Petty brings a rich personal and family background to his new task, along with a wry sense of humor and a knack for explaining racing in a clear and entertaining fashion. Benny Parsons left some mighty big shoes to fill, but Petty is doing a good job of filling them so far. I can’t wait to see how he performs on the Infineon road course today, doing both driving and commentary duties.

I’m especially interested, because I did that myself in 1994 and 1995, co-driving in endurance races. I started out the race as pit reporter, then got into the car for my driving stint, then finished up the race as pit reporter again.

I believe Petty is going to do his commentary from inside the car, which is a lot harder to do. As I recall, I was too busy saving my life in every corner to even think about talking while I was in the car!

Speaking of Infineon, we’ll be seeing the usual run of road course “ringers” showing up for today’s race, the first road course outing for the Car of Tomorrow. Jeremy Mayfield will be sitting the race out, as team owner Bill Davis is adding a No. 23 entry for road racing ace Butch Leitzinger.

Both Leitzinger’s Toyota and Dave Blaney’s No. 22 will have Caterpillar sponsorship, which is fitting since the Infineon facelift project was the biggest one Caterpillar has ever been involved in. Boris Said will be on hand, as will Ron Fellows driving in place of Tony Raines, P.J. Jones subbing for David Reutimann, Klaus Graf in for Mike Bliss, with Brian Simo and Marc Goossens also attempting to qualify.

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Terry Labonte will take the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota, replacing Michael Waltrip. Labonte, although he’s an excellent road racer, is there more for the past champion provisional that he will bring to the table. That is a bone of contention among the other teams that are out of the top 35 in points and have to qualify on time for the race.

Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace both got on quite a rant on the subject on the Trackside show on SPEED last weekend, and I can see their point. Now that NASCAR has tweaked the Chase format, maybe it’s time to look at doing away with that past champion’s provisional. In fact, maybe it’s time to revisit the whole qualifying format, or maybe split the series into two . . . sort of like the National League and American League in baseball, or the AFC and NFC in football. That would give NASCAR the opportunity for more races at more tracks, and let them become an even bigger force in racing than ever. If Brian France decides to do that, remember you heard it here first.

I’m glad to see that the praise I lavished on young Lewis Hamilton last week was justified by the results of the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Hamilton drove another near-flawless race to win his second GP in a row. As long as the McLaren team keeps providing him with fast, reliable machinery, he’s on track to win the World Championship in his first season.

I hope we’ll get a chance to see him in the U.S. again next year, but Formula 1 dictator Bernie Ecclestone is playing contractual hardball with Indy boss Tony George. After spending millions to construct the road course at the Speedway, George may find himself with a lot of unused asphalt on his hands if Bernie decides to take his show elsewhere. In fact, Ecclestone has been making comments that F1 doesn’t need the United States and that we don’t appreciate the series here. We like the series fine, Bernie . . . it’s you that’s the problem.