King of NASCAR: CoT long overdue

Associated Press • Mar 31, 2007 at 9:12 AM

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - The sport was unfamiliar and so was the language. That didn't stop Richard Petty from having a good time at a hockey game.

"It was a neat deal," he said.

The stock car great attended a recent Montreal Canadiens game as the guest of team owner George Gillett Jr. While admittedly being interested in hearing what Gillett - or anyone else - has to say about a possible partnership, Petty made the most of the hockey experience.

He found it hard to understand what was going on because "all those guys spoke French." No one said much when the Canadiens fell behind 2-0, he added, but a five-goal second period for the home team fixed that.

Closer to home, Petty - marking his 30-year relationship with sponsor Goody's - said the Car of Tomorrow was long overdue.

"We've been running basically the same car since 1981 and all they've done is refine it and pushed it around and made it look different because they're moving the tops and the bottoms," he said. "The big deal, I think, is the safety."

The CoT, which will be used for the second consecutive week in today's Goody's Cool Orange 500 at Martinsville Speedway, is supposed to be safer for drivers and more economical for teams. The idea is that the cars will allow single-car teams to compete better.

Some drivers have complaints.

"You hear them complaining about the car doesn't handle good and the tracks are rough," said Petty, a seven-time champion who retired in 1992. "They want the tracks smooth. Heck, if the cars drove perfect and the tracks were perfect, I'd still be driving."

Petty, who once won 27 races in a season and believes his career record of 200 victories is safe, said he thinks the sport still has plenty of growing to do. "We've got 50 million fans or 80 million fans or whatever we've got," he said. "We've got 300 million people out there. We've got a long way to go." DALE-MATT SPAT: Dale Jarrett criticized Matt Kenseth for being an unnecessarily rough driver after contact between the two last week at Bristol ended Jarrett's race after just 45 laps - and sent him tumbling out of the top 35 in owner points.

Jarrett said he planned to have a discussion with Kenseth, but the Roush Racing driver still hadn't spoken with Jarrett as of Friday. Kenseth said he wasn't inclined to go looking for Jarrett because he'd done nothing wrong.

"If I would have run into the back of him, I would have called him right away and talked to him about it," Kenseth said.

He said during the race, he tried to pass Jarrett several times, finally got well underneath him and then watched as Jarrett came down the track and into Kenseth's lane. From there, Jarrett's car crashed.

"I don't really feel like I was at fault," he said.

BLACK MAGIC: Carl Edwards has his own dark ways of dealing with drivers who cross him on the track.

"Actually, what I do is, if people cut me off, I've got little voodoo dolls for each guy in the car and I've got a bunch of pins. I don't resort to on-track violence," he said. "I let the black magic work, and that works for me."

NOT DONE YET: Kasey Kahne won a series-high six races last season and finished a career-best eighth in point. He's struggling mightily this season and will start Sunday's race 34th in points. But with 31 races left, he said it's too soon to count him out. "I'd write me off, too. We haven't performed yet," he said. "We haven't had a good finish yet. If it keeps rolling, then we're going to be like that all year. I personally don't feel like it will." Kahne has his work cut out for him this weekend. He starts 41st. END QUOTE: "We tried a lot of different stuff, made it better, made it worse, made it better, made it worse. Just hopefully tomorrow we roll out the good car for the race." - Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had the fastest car in the final practice

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