B. Labonte, T. Parrott Open New Petty Era with Kentucky Speedway Test
Crew chief Todd Parrott and driver Bobby Labonte ushered in a new era for the storied Petty Enterprises No. 43 NEXTEL Cup Series car with a test at Kentucky Speedway today.
Labonte, the 2000 series champion who finished 24th in the 2005 standings with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Parrott, who helped Dale Jarrett win the 1999 series title with Robert Yates Racing, will join new Exec. VP of Operations Robbie Loomis, who guided Jeff Gordon to 23 wins and the 2001 championship with Hendrick Motorsports, in an attempt to rejuvenate a Petty program that hasn't scored a series race win since Loomis last worked there in 1999.
Temperatures in the low to mid 20s didn't curb the enthusiasm both crew chief and driver expressed for their new project during their first test together. The new team agreed that the focus of the one-day test was to begin to establish solid team communications.
"It's different," Labonte said. "I was kind of jittery at first because it's been 11 years since I've had anything like this go on. It's a little too cold here for me, but, so far, so good.
"I'm just real excited to work with Todd and all these guys. Hopefully, I understand Todd and when I talk, he can understand the language I'm talking. For us, today is about getting a feel for everybody and everybody getting a feel for Todd. He's the main character here that everyone will have to look up to. When I'm on the racetrack, they've got to know what to do next and he's the guy leading them."
Parrott was encouraged by his team's early results.
"Not to say that we're not looking for great success right off the bat, but I'm throwing things at him, he's feeling it and that's good. Just from some things he's said this morning, I think it's going to be a great year."
Both veterans also spoke about the reasons behind their respective moves to Petty Enterprises.
"I just thought that I needed something different at Gibbs," Labonte said. "Those people treated me great and I had a great time there, but I felt like a change was needed. The Petty operation is very similar in that the people are real sincere. I felt like I could fit in here, kind of like when I went to Gibbs. I had some other opportunities, and they were awesome, but this is the No. 43. When I put my heart to it in terms of my family and myself, I felt like this was the place I'd like to be.
"Robbie was the first domino that fell into place here and that attracted me because I know his leadership will be a plus. Then, we were able to get Todd. What a no-brainer that was. I guess it goes to show you that the Pettys weren't happy with just sitting there after the way they've run the past couple years."
Parrott's arrival for the 2006 season brings him to the place where he started his NEXTEL Cup Series career and a team that holds sentimental value for his family.
"My dad (Buddy) was a crew chief for Richard Petty in 1984 when he won his last two races. I worked on that team and, now, some 22 years later, I'm in the same role my dad was with Petty Enterprises and the No. 43 car.
"I wasn't real sure what was going to happen at Yates and I'd been talking with Robbie a little bit during the second half of the (2005) season. We would've liked to have kept things the way they were at Yates, but Robert felt more changes needed to be made. Once that was done and they released me, I gave Robbie a call and we sat down and talked."
That talk led to the formation of a new guard at Petty Enterprises which is confident its combined experience, along with that of team owners Richard and Kyle Petty, will help the No. 43 car become an annual title contender.
"It gives you a lot of confidence knowing you've got a driver that's got a great feel (for the car) and a history of winning races and championships," Parrott said. "He knows what it takes to be there at the end of the day. Robbie learned a lot with Jeff Gordon, and I had 10 great years with Yates and won a championship with Dale. This is a new deal and an opportunity for us as a group to take all the things we've learned and take Petty Enterprises back to the top."
Robert Yates Racing joined the test. Drivers Matt McCall, Steven Leicht, and Justin Diercks split time in a research and development car.
Testing is scheduled to continue Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 when Kyle Busch and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports machine share track time with J.J. Yeley and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing ride.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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