As a car owner whose teams are struggling to keep up with multicar megateams, seven-time champion Richard Petty has a solution to guarantee those who built NASCAR stick around: franchising.
``I don't know if I'll live long enough to see it or not, but it will probably happen someday,'' said the man still widely referred to as 'The King.' ``I think the only thing in my mind that keeps NASCAR from becoming a completely legitimate, major league with golfing or football or baseball or whatever is being franchised.''
He's not alone.
Son Kyle, who runs the two-car Petty Enterprises entry in the Nextel Cup series and drives one of the cars, and veteran Ricky Rudd said it's time NASCAR give back to its teams.
Rudd, like Kyle Petty, understands the situation as a driver and as an owner.
``From an owner standpoint, I was pushing for franchising years ago when I had my teams because, at the end of the day, we spent millions of dollars and we had an auction and got 10 cents on the dollars for all our parts,'' he said this week at Richmond International Raceway, where he was testing his car for Robert Yates Racing.
``It was sort of a sad situation because you work, you put all that sweat into it, but it doesn't really get you anything,'' Rudd said. ``It gives you a business for today but no planning for the future. Man, I'm so tickled that I'm not an owner right now.
The Pettys are, and they're having a tough time. They haven't won a race since 1999 at Martinsville Speedway and have just three victories since the 1983 season. Longtime racing team the Wood Brothers is also struggling, winning five times since the 1983 season.
NASCAR's vice president of racing operations, Steve O'Donnell, said the governing body has considered franchising and discussed it with team owners.
``The challenge is 'what does a franchise mean?' in our sport and how can it benefit everyone?'' O'Donnell said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
``We are different than the stick and ball sports. Competition, not contracts, dictates whether teams compete week in and week out,'' he said. ``So far, no model has been developed to ensure that the need to perform would remain a team's priority.
``True, side by side competition is at the root of NASCAR,'' he said, ``and it's important to be maintained.''
That's a week-to-week concern for some struggling teams.
Although Petty driver Bobby Labonte is 22nd in points and guaranteed a spot in the next race, Kyle Petty is dangerously close to the top 35 cutoff for such guarantees _ he's 32nd. The Wood Brothers are outside that top 35.
As a driver, Kyle Petty said the 43 fastest cars should make the field.
``In the business world, there's a totally different set of rules,'' he said. ``Call it sweat equity. We put 60 years in here, and we deserve something back for those 60 years. The Wood Brothers deserve something back for their 50 years.''
Rudd, who spent three seasons racing for the Wood Brothers, said he sympathizes, citing the experience of former Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton who returned full time this season.
``I wouldn't want to be in his position for anything, but all of us in this garage area could be very easily,'' Rudd said of Burton, who has failed to qualify for four of the first six races driving for Morgan-McClure Motorsports. Burton's 47th in points, 273 behind No. 35 Johnny Sauter.
``You just wouldn't believe the way it is for the car owner, the team, the driver, everybody,'' he said of the stress. ``The whole mentality when you go to the race track and you're in the top 35 is completely different than if you're 35th or 36th.''