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Tue, Oct 21, 2014

WOODY: Petty stirs NASCAR's pot

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Since swapping his race car for a microphone, Kyle Petty has earned a reputation as a TV commentator who often shoots from the lip – and whose remarks often draw return fire.

Driver Denny Hamlin minced no words awhile back when responding to some of Kyle’s comments: “He’s a moron.”

Kyle subsequently admitted he had misconstrued Hamlin’s remarks about being the “face of his team” when he took a dig at Denny. He said he was wrong, and apologized.

Earlier, Kyle took a swipe at Danica Patrick, saying she was more of a “marketing machine” than a racer. He said she got where she is only because of her hot looks.

Kyle’s correct about Danica, of course – if she were coyote-ugly, she’d be Danica Who, instead of the darling diva of motorsports.

Other female drivers have had Danica’s track talent, but not her sex appeal, and their careers fizzled.

However, Kyle’s criticism of Danica came across as snide and snippy, coming from a commentator who got where HE is because of his famous dad and not – just like Danica – because of his driving ability.

If Kyle weren’t the son of racing legend Richard Petty, he probably wouldn’t have been able to break into big-time racing, then career parlay his celebrity status into a plum TV gig.

Danica made it because she looks good in jeans.

Kyle made it because of his famous genes.

I don’t want to be too hard on Kyle. I’ve known him since he was knee-high to a lug nut, and have always liked him. We once shared a table at a New York sidewalk restaurant, and his daughter Montgomery Lee lived in Nashville while attending Belmont University. During that period, whenever I’d bump into Kyle he’d joke about “keeping an eye” on me whenever he visited Music City.

He has a big heart. After the death of his son Adam, Kyle founded the Victory Junction Gang Camp for kids with life-threatening ailments. He continues to work hard at various charity fund-raisers to keep the camp going.

And while he’s no Mike Wallace, Kyle is the most candid and outspoken racing commentator on the airwaves. Sometimes that gets him in hot water – witness the Denny and Danica dust-ups – but at least he’s not afraid to speak his mind.

Most other NASCAR TV commentators are so sweet and syrupy that listening to them can cause tooth decay.

Even my buddy Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR’s resident rebel during his driving days, pulled in his horns once he moved into the Fox Sports broadcast booth.

Back in his brash early years Darrell wasn’t afraid to buck the system. (He once called iron-fisted NASCAR boss Bill France “our Great White Father in Daytona.”) Now, as a commentator, he tends to toe the party line. Darrell’s still the best, but I wish he’d throw a few more spitballs at the teacher.

With DW mellowed, Kyle is the only TV personality who’s not afraid to stir the NASCAR pot. For that he deserves an attaboy.

My only advice to Kyle is to do his homework and make sure – as in the Hamlin case – that he knows what he’s talking about before he starts talking.

Also, cut off that ratty old gray ponytail. Kyle, you’re a 53-year-old grandfather and network commentator for crying out loud, not a roadie at a Grateful Dead concert.

Then, after getting a trim, go back to the booth and keep snipping away.

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Kyle Petty, NASCAR, Racing, Sports
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