Not every driver in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series is beloved by fans. Even the most popular driver in the series, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has his share of detractors. Many anti-Earnhardt fans compare the 10-time running most popular driver to Kyle Petty in a not so kind manner. In reality, the comparison is laughable based on statistics of which favor Earnhardt in every meaningful category. However Earnhardt critics unfairly use Petty as a source to fuel their arguments. While Petty’s numbers are not hall of fame worthy, for a period he was one of the top drivers in NASCAR’s Cup Series.
One of the reasons why the Earnhardt/Petty comparison is made is due to the fact that both drivers are the sons of seven time NASCAR Cup Series champions and two of the most revered and beloved drivers in all of motorsport. Both Earnhardt, Jr. and Petty entered the Cup Series with immense expectations thanks in part to the legacy their fathers had and were continuing to weave as well as their own success in racing. Earnhardt entered Cup coming off two Busch Series crowns while Petty shocked everyone with a surprise win in the ARCA Series at Daytona. Despite their respective success in Cup, neither Earnhardt (yet) or Petty have won a championship.
The majority of NASCAR’s newer fans likely only recognize Petty based off of his television work on TNT and Speed or the latter stage of his career where he struggled to make races and be competitive in them. In the early 90s, Petty was without question one of the top drivers in the Cup Series. Between 1990 and 1993, Petty won five events while finishing fifth in points in 1992 and 1993. Petty also won one of the most prestigious races in 1987 when he was victorious in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
Statistically, Petty’s numbers are better than many very good drivers who’ve races in the Cup Series. His eight career victories are better than drivers such as Jamie McMurray, Ward Burton, Bobby Hamilton and Ken Schrader. His 52 top fives rank higher than Jimmy Spencer, Martin Truex, Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya and Elliott Sadler. Petty’s 173 top 10s are more than Michael Waltrip, Ernie Irvan, Donnie Allison and Mike Skinner. Finally, Petty’s eight career poles are more than Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Steve Park and John Andretti had in theirs.
Many local short track drivers would love to have the kind of career that Kyle Petty did. He may not be considered among NASCAR’s greatest drivers of all time but he definitely deserves more respect than he receives regarding his career.