By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
The King is coming to Indy.
And Richard Petty is bringing an Andretti along for the ride.
The family names alone fill pages of stock car and IndyCar history books. Now two of the most famous names in auto racing will again be united at one of the sport's most famous tracks.
For Petty, the driver long synonymous with NASCAR, the Indianapolis 500 offers a whole new kind of racing style and pageantry. More than 50 years after making his NASCAR debut, Petty will be a rookie at next month's Indianapolis 500, albeit as an owner.
"You've got to be there to really appreciate just how big a show it is," Petty said.
Petty got his first taste of the open cockpit 33-car field last year. The tradition and atmosphere were enough to convince the winningest driver in NASCAR history to put on his sunglasses and black hat and get to work on entering a car in this year's race.
He's going with John Andretti behind the wheel. Andretti drove for Petty Enterprises on the Cup circuit and recorded the last win for that team in Martinsville back in 1999. Andretti is the nephew of former 500 winner Mario Andretti and cousin of longtime race regular, Michael Andretti.
John Andretti was the first driver to compete in the Indy 500 and the Cup's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. IndyCar's premier race now starts later, making the double an impossibility for drivers. But not for an owner like Petty, who plans to attend the races in Indianapolis and at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.
"It's going to be easier on me than on the driver," he said.
Petty and Andretti tried to find a sponsorship deal to get them in last year's 500, but it never materialized. They found a sponsor this year for No. 43 car that is co-owned with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
"I'd still be at Indy, but now it's special because I'm going to Indy in the 43 and I'm going to Indy with Richard," Andretti said. "In my mind, he's still the biggest name in NASCAR."
Petty is still as much a presence at Cup tracks as Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson even though he never found the success in ownership that he did as the sport's greatest driver. He won seven Cup titles and is the series' career leader in wins (200) and poles (127). He also won a record seven Daytona 500s before he retired in 1992.
His stock car commitments kept him from Indianapolis each May. But Andretti always chirped away at his boss at how special it was to race on the 2.5-mile oval. Sure, Cup racing had come to the Brickyard in the 1990s, so Petty was familiar with the pagoda and the bricks and the history that makes Indianapolis special to so many drivers.
But Indy has a different flavor in May.
"Every year that I drove the 43 in the Cup series, the month of May would come around and I'd talk about Indianapolis the whole month," Andretti said. "I think he was a little bit tired of hearing about it. Hopefully, he's going to have fun at it."
Andretti will make his 10th career Indy start and he's never finished better than fifth (1991). He has only two career Cup wins and no top-10s this season in nine starts, and will miss points races in Darlington and Charlotte before returning at Dover. He's not anywhere near title contention, so his absences won't really hurt.
Petty and Andretti both say this isn't a publicity stunt. They're going to the Speedway intending to field a competitive car and go for the win. No Andretti driver has won a race since Mario in 1969, though Michael Andretti has won as an owner.
"People have seen us together at other places so they might as well see us in Indy," John Andretti said. "We've been to Indy before together with the roof on so now we're going to run the convertible and do it different."
Petty is calling the run at Indianapolis a "one-shot deal."
Who knows, though? A Petty-Andretti win, or a more likely a strong run, could give a boost to both their careers and make them want to take the trip to Indy for a regular run each May.
"If you're going to go," Petty said, "go for the big show."