By David Morgan, Associate Editor
We all know how dominant Petty Enterprises was in its heyday, as the organization captured 250+ wins over the course of its lifespan with Richard Petty, Lee Petty, and a handful of others behind the wheel, but after Petty’s final win in 1984, trips to Victory Lane would become a much rarer sight.
Only three other times after that would a Petty Enterprises No. 43 car take the checkered flag and in April 1999, John Andretti would be the last driver to deliver a win for the historic organization.
Coming into the spring Martinsville race that year, neither Petty Enterprises nor Andretti had won a race since the 1997 season, with Andretti last winning at Daytona that summer in a Cale Yarborough owned car and Bobby Hamilton giving Petty their last win at Rockingham in October 1997.
The day prior, a Petty Enterprises entry in the Truck Series scored the win when Jimmy Hensley drove the No. 43 truck to the victory, setting up the chance at a weekend sweep.
Andretti, who was in his second season with team, started the day back in 21st and would stay around that position for the opening laps of the race, battling an ill-handling car. If things couldn’t get any worse, Andretti found himself going for a spin off the front bumper of Ward Burton’s car on lap 47, dropping him a lap down to the leaders early on.
When Burton spun 15 laps later, the caution flag flew and Andretti showed off his determination, as he took an unsuccessful detour over the inside curb and through the grass to try and beat the leaders back to the start/finish line and get his lap back.
Eventually, Andretti would get back on the lead lap, passing leader Jeff Gordon on lap 134 while running 26th, erasing his lap deficit to the leaders.
From there, Andretti was able to climb up to 11th on the leaderboard, avoiding the carnage that befell other drivers in the numerous caution flags that took place that day. The final caution flag would fall on lap 382 and that’s when pit strategy would come into play for the final push to the finish.
Andretti and crew chief Robbie Loomis elected to take two tires, while most of the other leaders took on four tires instead. The move allowed Andretti to climb up to fourth place, giving him a real shot at the win.
Earlier in the day, two tires hadn’t worked out so well for some other drivers and teams, but the same fate would not befall Andretti, who made his march toward the front with about 50 laps to go, passing Rusty Wallace for third and setting his sights on Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton ahead.
With 13 laps remaining, Andretti caught Gordon and dispatched him within a couple of laps. Burton was next on Andretti’s list and he was able to catch up to him with eight laps to go, setting up a battle for the race lead and the win with the checkered flag in sight.
The two drivers would run side-by-side for four laps before Andretti finally got the advantage off of Turn 4 with three laps to go.
Having taken over the lead, it was all Andretti for the final laps of the race as he scored his second career Cup Series race and the 268th for Petty Enterprises.
Burton came home in second, with Gordon in third, Mike Skinner in fourth, and Mark Martin rounding out the top-five.
“The whole STP Pontiac team has done a great job,” Andretti said after the win. “The two tire call, I didn’t think we had anything left and then with about 20 to go, I thought my brakes were done, but I didn’t care. I would have rather won the race or tried to win the race than go out with brake failure…We’ve got a beat up race car, but she’ll work again.”
“It was a hard race for him,” team owner Richard Petty added. “He drove his fanny off all day long. The car stayed with him and he stayed right with the car…I told him he looked like Richard Petty driving that thing.”
After Andretti’s win, the Petty Enterprises name would never again visit Victory Lane, eventually closing in 2008 after being sold to George Gillett and merged with Evernham Motorsports, re-emerging under the Richard Petty Motorsports banner.
Petty and an investment group would buy the team back from Gillett in late 2010. Though there have been financial hardships along the way, RPM made it back to the winner’s circle with Aric Almirola in 2014 and now find themselves aligned with Richard Childress Racing, as Darrell Wallace, Jr. pilots the No. 43 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.