The King talks progress, race team, and NASCAR’s future

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 03:  NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, FL – JULY 03: NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Although the sun set on Richard Petty’s racing career 23 years ago, he is still The King.

It is a nickname he carries with pride. His thoughts hold weight in not only NASCAR but the entire racing community as well—and for good reason. In an ever-changing sport, the seven-time champion provides a steady voice flanked with wisdom.

“[NASCAR] wants to keep growing and keep the fans interested,” Petty told Up Top The Pit Box regarding the sport’s future. “We want to have them come to the races and watch it on TV. There is so much going on in the world for people to do and to watch. The younger generation is growing up on the X Games and other extreme sports. We want to keep their attention and have them watch us, too.”

The Hall of Fame driver competed during a vastly different era of racing, acquiring 200 overall wins, 712 top-10 finishes, and 123 poles. It’s so different that comparisons to modern day action fall mute.

Petty said, “You just can’t compare [the two eras of racing]. Today, there is so much technology and stuff like that. The cars are so different. We were racing strictly stock cars, and now we have specifically prepared race cars.”

“Everything is just different, but so is the world, too. Things just progress.”

Progress is a crucial part of sports, and it’s something the champion focused on during his career. His thought process was simple—be better than the time before.

“[I wanted] to be better each lap. If the guy in front of me was going faster, I wanted to be faster than him the next lap. And that’s really how I judged myself, how to be better than yesterday.”

When asked if any missed opportunities haunted him, Petty answered, “I’ve won races and come home and couldn’t sleep because I was thinking of something that didn’t go right or as we hoped and planned. There were other races where I finished fifth or sixth and slept like a baby…I knew I got the best out of the car that day and did the best I possibly could.”

The legend wants to instill that mindset into his team, Richard Petty Motorsports. The two-car operation is working to make The Chase, NASCAR’s playoff system that consists of ten races. Driver Aric Almirola made the cut after winning last year’s July event at Daytona International Speedway. Almirola is currently 15th in the point standings, but the team’s owner thinks a win is in the cards.

“I think Aric can win this year. [The No. 43 team] is more consistent this year, and we’re right near The Chase. We just need to give him good cars because he’s proved to be capable of running up front.”

RPM’s other driver, Sam Hornish Jr., is 24th in the rankings, searching for the winning spark. “[The No. 9 team] is getting their chemistry. We’ve made a crew chief change, and we just need to keep going. Sam did a great job at Sonoma [Raceway], and he was good [in the Daytona 500 earlier this season].”

While Almirola and Hornish compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Petty fields driver Dakoda Armstrong in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. When asked about moving Armstrong up anytime soon, the owner assured, “Dakoda does a good job for us in the XFINITY Series. Right now, we’re concentrating on being a two-car Cup team.”

The former championship-winning driver and current team owner is a trademark in the world of racing, and the sport is in his blood.

“When NASCAR started, my daddy [driver Lee Petty] was at the first race. I was going to races after that and have been ever since.”

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m just too old to start something new now.”

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