Petty has best race since '99

Associated Press
Published April 4, 2005

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Kyle Petty isn't ready to call himself a contender, but his highest finish since 1999 gave him reason to hope.

Petty finished eighth in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday. It was his first top 10 since 2002, and his highest finish since a seventh place in November 1999.

"One race doesn't make it, but I think it shows flashes of it," Petty said. "I really didn't do a lot except ride around and keep the car out of trouble."

True, the race had 14 cautions for 115 laps, including a 14-minute stoppage for an accident that eliminated eight cars on the lead lap.

But by being there in the end, Petty is proving that this might be the season his family-owned operation turns things around.

Petty Enterprises is using motors built by Ray Evernham this year, and several personnel changes has everyone feeling upbeat.

Jeff Green , the other Petty driver, also is headed in the right direction. He qualified sixth at Bristol, but was in an early accident and ended up 29th.

JUNIOR BOUNCES BACK: Dale Earnhardt Jr. put a temporary halt to his slump with a fourth-place finish.

Earnhardt opened the season with a third-place finish at Daytona, but was 32nd, 42nd and 24th in the next three races. But his Bristol run was a big rebound, and lifted him nine spots in the standings to 17th.

He had a few close calls, though, including having to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting Matt Kenseth midway through the race.

"Man, that was some hard driving. There, at the end, I kind of felt like I was arm wrestling Sylvester Stallone ," he said. "But other than that, we had a really good car and I was happy with the way the team got through the day."

SO CLOSE: Rusty Wallace was the driver to beat at Bristol, where he has won 10 times.

He started out strong and led a race-high 157 laps. But his right front tire went flat during a long run and he had to pit under green, causing him to fall two laps down.

Then he sustained slight damage in a 14-car accident, and later clipped Tony Stewart as the two tried to avoid another wreck. He ended up finishing 13th.

"Probably the most disappointing part of the day was (Rusty)," said Stewart, who was third.

"He probably was the class of the field all day. You know, he probably had the worst luck of anybody."

Wallace is retiring at the end of the season, but is trying hard to go out strong. He is ninth in the points.

"I had 'em covered all day long until the tire went," Wallace said. "I thought I had it won, I really did. Stupid stuff happens."