With the laps dwindling down and the middle of the pack getting a little antsy, the field turned to complete mayhem with just 8 laps to go in the Centurion Boats at the Glen on Sunday afternoon. Michael McDowell spun David Gilliland as the two raced for position, setting off a chain reaction that left several cars crippled near the pit road entrance. Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Sam Hornish Jr, Reed Sorenson, Max Papis, Dave Blaney, and Joe Nemechek were also involved.
As seen in the video footage of the accident, Bobby LaBonte was left limping his way over to the infield care center. It was then learned that LaBonte was taken to the hospital in Elmira, NY with what Petty Enterprises VP Robbie Loomis described as discomfort in his rib and abdominal area, but NASCAR officials later stated that Bobby was released from the hospital and cleared to resume competition.
Though they may not admit it, several drivers in the Sprint Cup garage area were probably a bit smitten when NASCAR was forced to cancel qualifying for the Centurion Boats at the Glen at Watkins Glen International on Friday. The simple fact of the matter is that several drivers near the top at points are going to receive a better starting position that they likely would have, and while it still may not exactly give them a shot at winning Sunday’s race, it obviously provides a good path towards a better finish. That would be the guys like Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne who historically get left in a position where they have to work just a little harder to keep their Chase hopes alive after a long day of racing at Watkins Glen. And, as for guys like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick - drivers that are typically considered to be among the favorites to win anytime we go road course racing - they should be just as happy that there was no qualifying on Friday - or, at least they almost were.
Per the NASCAR rulebook, no qualifying means that the field will be set based on car owner points from top to bottom with the small caveat of the past champions provisional to be taken into account. Now, that was almost enough to keep the road course ringers from making their way into the show, but because Ron Fellows is replacing Regan Smith for DEI and PJ Jones is driving the no. 96 HOF Racing entry this weekend, both drivers had enough owner points to receive the opportunity to run on Sunday. Max Papis and Marcos Ambrose almost missed the cut as well, but with only 45 entries, they managed to squeeze by as well.
The two cars that failed to “qualify” were Brian Simo and Boris Said, both considered to be road course specialists. This marked the second year in a row that Said showed up at Watkins Glen only to watch Mother Nature end his weekend before he ever even started the engine ….. and, it was also the second year in a row that a veteran driver climbed out of their car to make room for Said’s talents and expertise. Last year it was Bill Elliott stepping out while Boris drove the no. 21 Wood Brothers car to a 14th place finish. This year, it was Kyle Petty sacraficing his no. 45 Petty Enterprises car - 40th in owner points - to give Boris yet another break.
“Boris is known around the world as one of the premier road-course racers,” said Robbie Loomis, vice president of operations at Petty Enterprises. “He’ll give us another great opportunity to assess our program. Everyone at Petty Enterprises is grateful to Boris for helping us out.”
They are all the all-time leader in NASCAR for wins as an organization, they have 7 Cup championships to their credit, and they’ve been in operation since 1949. So, why is it that only a few months into the 2008 season, Petty Enterprises had looked as though they might be on the verge of crumbling? Maybe it’s because they haven’t visited Victory Lane since 1998. Perhaps it’s the fact that General Mills, the team’s #1 sponsor for a very, very long time, has already announced their departure from Petty to put their name on a new RCR car. It might have something to do with Bobby LaBonte, the cornerstone for Petty since 2006, looked as though he could be headed with General Mills. Or, it could be the fact that it wasn’t so long ago that the owner’s son, Kyle Petty, was asked to remove himself from one of the team’s cars for a race, after which he publically called out VP Robbie Loomis in several media articles.
Whatever it is that had us all thinking that Petty Enterprises had become a simple afterthought in the NASCAR circuit, we can put those notions to rest, because with their announcement on Wednesday afternoon has erased any doubts about their intent to compete in this sport. Petty announced the re-signing of LaBonte to a four-year contract extension, which many people believe could take Bobby to the near-end of his career, but the big announcement for the team was at the management level. Richard Petty has given up majority control of the organization to Boston Ventures in an effort to finally bring the team the capitol it has so desperately needed.
Boston Ventures has several interests in the media and entertainment industries, including investments in Six Flags theme parks, Motown Records, American Media Inc, and some others. While Richard Petty claims he will still be involved in the day-to-day activities of Petty Enterprises, Boston Ventures Managing Director, Barry Barker, has taken over as the new Chairman, and David Zucker will fill in as the CEO.
For LaBonte, negotiations with Petty have been ongoing and intensified earlier in the season when it was rumored that he would follow General Mills over to Richard Childress Racing. After finally coming to an agreement with the team, he cited the additions of Boston Ventures to the mix as a very large contributer to his decision. While he enjoys racing for Petty and would like nothing more than setup shop there long-term, just as any other racer desires, he felt like he needed better equipment to compete in. With Boston Ventures coming on board, he strongly feels like they can finally get the equipment they need.
“With Boston Ventures coming on board, it was definitely the thing that swayed me to stay,” he said. “They are bringing the things we need to move forward.”
While nobody is expecting an overnight miracle to result from this announcement, it’s good to think that Petty Enterprises could be back on the move. This is certainly a step in the right direction, and with LaBonte still competing for a spot in this year’s Chase, things are definitely looking up for Petty!