Petty began racing at a young age and made his major-league stock car debut at the age of 18. He won his first at the 1979 Daytona ARCA 200 in a Dodge Magnum, at the time becoming the youngest driver to win a major-league stock car race. Later in the season, he made his Winston Cup Series debut (after several attempts to qualify, usually crashing out) driving the #42 STP Dodge Magnum for his family's team. He ran five races and had a ninth-place finish in his first series race at Talladega. In 1980, he made a total of fifteen starts in the #42 (after crashing his Dodge Magnum in one of the Daytona 125 qualifying races) and had six top-ten finishes, garnering a twenty-eighth place points finish. He began the 1981 season driving his father's #43 for one race, before running a full schedule in his regular #42, finishing in the top-ten ten times and finishing twelfth in points. He began the 1982 season with two top-ten finishes, but later began splitting time between his #42 and the #1 UNO/STP car owned by Hoss Ellington, and ended the season fifteenth in points.
In 1983, he picked up funding from 7-Eleven and switched his number to #7 accordingly. He had only two top-ten finishes but improved to thirteenth in the standings. He followed that season up with six top-tens the following year, but fell three spots in points.
Petty took his number and sponsorship to Wood Brothers Racing in 1985, where he had a then career-high seven top-fives and his first top-ten points finish. The next season, he won his first career race at Richmond and finished tenth in the final standings. In 1987, he switched to the #21 and received new sponsorship from Citgo, as well as picking up a win at Charlotte. He failed to pick up a win in 1988, and fell to thirteenth in points, causing him to be released from the ride.
He signed on to a part-time schedule in 1989 for the new SABCO Racing team. Originally beginning the season unsponsored, he and SABCO later picked up sponsorship from Peak Antifreeze after he drove their car to a top-ten finish at the Daytona 500, filling in for Eddie Bierschwale, as well as Ames Department Stores. Petty and the #42 Pontiac team competed in nineteen races that season, his best finish being a 4th at Atlanta. Peak became the team's full-time sponsor in 1990, and Petty finished eleventh in points after winning the spring race at North Carolina Speedway with a 26 second margin of victory. Mello Yello would replace Peak as sponsor of the #42 in 1991, and Petty was running eleventh in points when he suffered a broken leg at a crash at Talladega, causing him to miss the next eleven races. His abbreviated schedule combined with only one top-ten in the second half of the season caused him to finish the season 30th in points.
In 1992, Petty rebounded to a career-best fifth place finish in points, as well winning two separate races that season, the only time he was to have accomplished this feat in his career. He duplicated his points finish in 1993 as well as picking up a win at Pocono Raceway. He dropped ten spots in points in 1994 after he failed to finish higher than fourth, and lost the Mello Yello sponsorship at the end of the season. Coors Light became his new sponsor beginning in 1995, and he won his most recent race at Dover. He fell further down to 30th in points after only finishing in the top-ten five times and failing to qualify for the fall race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He improved to a 27th place points finish the next season despite missing two races due to injury and failing to qualify for the season-ending race at Atlanta. He parted way with SABCO at the end of the season.
For the 1997 season, Petty formed his own team, PE2 Motorsports, and fielded the #44 Hot Wheels Pontiac Grand Prix for himself. He had two top-five finishes and finished 15th in points, the highest points placement of all the new teams to run during the 1997 season. He only had two top-tens in 1998, and fell back to 30th in points, causing him to return to Petty Enterprises and run his team from their shop, and became Petty Enterprises' new CEO. He began the 1999 season with two early DNQs, and finished 26th in points despite finishing in the top-ten nine times. He had one top-ten early in 2000 when his son Adam died while practicing for a Busch Series race at New Hampshire International Speedway. He missed the next two races and returned to drive the #44 for the rest of the summer, before moving to the Busch Series full-time to finish out the season in Adam's #45 Sprint Chevrolet. He had four top-tens in the car over a span of fourteen races, and attempted two Cup races with the 45, finishing 31st at Martinsville. He also filled at the Brickyard 400 for Penske Racing after their regular driver, Jeremy Mayfield had to miss the race due to a concussion; Petty finished 32nd.
In 2001, Petty brought the #45 to Cup full-time and switched to Dodge. He failed to qualify for twelve races that season and failed to finish higher than sixteenth, causing him to finish 43rd in points. He qualified for every race in 2002 and had a top-ten at Talladega, raising him to 22nd in the points. After 2002, Sprint left the team and Brawny/Georgia Pacific became his new sponsor. He missed three races in 2003 (including one due to injury) and fell back to 37th in the standings. He moved up four spots in 2004 and had a best finish of 12th. In 2005, he competed in every race for the first time in three years and had two top-tens and finished 27th in points. After Georgia Pacific left after 2005, Wells Fargo, Schwan's, and Marathon Oil became the team's new primary sponsors and Petty duplicated his top-ten total in 2006, but fell five spots further in points.
At the 2007 Coca-Cola 600, Petty had first top-five finish in ten years, finishing 3rd in the Coke Zero Dodge. He later took several races off to work as a color commentator for TNT's Nextel Cup coverage, replacing the late Benny Parsons. He returned to the 45 after a five race break but surrendered the car for two additional races later in the season. Early in the 2008 season, Petty Enterprises was purchased by Boston Ventures, causing Petty to step aside as the team's CEO. When the #45 car fell out of the top-35 in owner's points, he took a large portion of the season off, including races that did not conflict with his broadcasting duties. After fourteen races, his best finish was been a 24th at Richmond. He finished 39th in his final 2008 start in the fall race at Phoenix International Raceway after getting swept up into a multi-car crash. According to the Yahoo! sports blog "From The Marbles", he was being slowly pushed out the door at Petty Enterprises. "I don't work for Petty Enterprises" Petty told NASCAR.com on December 8, 2008. "When they did their deal and sold to Boston Ventures....they pretty much let me know there wasn't a place for me there going into '09." Any time he appears on television on Speed he wears a hat with a number 45 with a black patch over the number designating that he is not affiliated with his former team. He appears mostly on Trackside and NASCAR Smarts as a television personality.
Petty is active in many charitable causes, such as the Victory Junction Gang Camp for terminally-ill children, which he established to honor his late son, as well as an annual charity motorcycle ride across the country called the Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America.
- Petty Enterprises official website
- Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America
- Career statistics at RacingReference.com
- Victory Junction Gang Camp
- Coca-Cola Racing Family's Kyle Petty profile
- October 2005 interview with Kyle Petty from NASCAR.com
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