"When we won our first race at Phoenix in 1996," says Hamilton, "I didn't see a single headline with my name in it. They all Said THE KING RETURNS TO VICTORY LANE." Hamilton denies that Petty's long shadow is the reason he's leaving to replace Sterling Marlin on the Morgan-McClure team, but it couldn't have helped their relationship.
Andretti, who drives for Cale Yarborough, got his first Winston Cup victory in 110 career starts when he won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July. However, Yarborough's failure to land a new sponsor to replace RCA, which has announced it is getting out of racing after this season, leaves Andretti free to drive for Petty, who used him in 11 races in 1994 and liked what he saw.
Andretti, 34, would become a Pontiac teammate of Petty's son Kyle, 37. Petty Enterprises may eventually expand to three drivers, with the addition of Kyle's son Adam, 17, who is racing late model stock cars. Adam would be the fourth-generation Petty in a NASCAR dynasty that was started by his great-grandfather Lee. But the family doesn't want to make the same mistake with Adam that it made with Kyle, who at 19 ran a single ARCA race, won it, then jumped to the Winston Cup in 1979. "That was a failed experiment from the beginning," says Kyle, who needed seven years to win his first Winston Cup race. "I couldn't bring a 17-year-old with no experience into this series." They'll likely have Adam serve an apprenticeship on the Busch Grand National Series circuit first.
Yet another son of a famous driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., 23, will take the next step in preparation for Winston Cup racing when he becomes a full-time driver in the Busch series next season. He takes over the Monte Carlo in which Steve Park won three races this season. Park, a prot�g� of Dale Sr's., moves up to Winston Cup to drive for a new team owned by the Intimidator.
All this will spread Dale Sr., 46, a little thin next year. He will continue to drive the notorious black number 3 Monte Carlo for owner Richard Childress, while also advising teammate Mike Skinner and keeping a close eye on Park and Dale Jr. What's more, he's battling the weight of a 58-race winless streak. Sound like a good time to retire? "I've got a contract with Childress through 2000," Dale Sr. says. "I'm not going to quit before then. If I sign another one, I won't quit that, either. Racing is still fun. I'm going to win some more races and that eighth Winston Cup championship."
Besides, he says, "I want the fans booing me like they used to."