DOVER, Del. - For a driver who turned 47 on Saturday, Kyle Petty was set to celebrate with the perfect birthday gift: time off.
It's not a quite a vacation for Petty, who will still visit NASCAR tracks every weekend. He's leaving the No. 45 Dodge for a spin in the broadcast booth.
Not even his best finish in a decade could make him waver in his decision to temporarily dump his ride to work as a NASCAR race analyst for TNT.
"I don't have 10 years left of driving," Petty said Saturday. "I've got to start looking for something else to do. I can't write, but I can run my mouth."
And he showed in last week's Coca-Cola 600 that he still can drive.
Petty stunned the rest of the field when he finished third at Lowe's Motor Speedway - his first top five in 10 years. Petty could take some added momentum with him after Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, where he won in 1995 and finished eighth in the fall race on the mile concrete track in 2005.
If Petty does end up with another strong run, he still wouldn't regret the transition to TV.
"If I was 21, I'd be excited for Kyle Petty," he said. "But I'm 47. I'm at a different place in my career."
Still, those pats on the back from other drivers and those "go get 'ems" from the fans do mean a little more this week after so many trying seasons.
"Yeah, it feels better," Petty said inside his hauler, chuckling. "It makes playing golf feel a lot better on Monday or Tuesday."
Petty wasn't a contender in the Chase, anyway, with only two other top-20 finishes in his first 11 races. He hasn't been a legitimate factor in the title chase for years now and insisted the third-place finish wasn't any kind of confi-dence boost for him heading to Dover.
The win meant more to his Petty Enterprises team.
"They've worked for three or four years and really had nothing to show for it," Petty said. "From a team aspect, we were a lot more motivated to come to Dover and I think everybody was pumped up a lot."
Craftsman Truck Series driver Chad McCumbee will fill in for Petty next week at Pocono Raceway, with John An-dretti filling in for the other four races. Petty will both drive and announce in the June 24 race at Infineon Raceway.
While Petty acknowledges his days as a driver are likely ending, he's not ready to blow out the candles on his ca-reer quite yet.
"Right now, I wake up every morning and I love to get in a race car," he said. "If I run 43rd, I still had a good day."
When former driver Benny Parsons died of lung cancer complications in January it opened a spot on the TNT broadcast team. Petty dabbled in broadcasting before this year and said he wasn't necessarily looking to make the move into TV until this opportunity came up. About the only thing tougher than hitching a ride with a NASCAR team might be finding a spot in a twoor three-man broadcast team.
"When the music stopped, I had to jump on a deal," Petty said.
Petty's absence from the cockpit brings the hard realization that the Petty name that has meant so much to NAS-CAR for decades might soon be absent from the starting lineup forever.
Patriarch Lee Petty ran in his first NASCAR race in 1949 and "King" Richard Petty won 200 races during a career that cemented the family as stock car racing's first true dynasty.
The name should have carried on around the track for decades, but fourth-generation driver Adam Petty, Kyle's son, was killed in a crash during a routine practice in 2000 at New Hampshire International Speedway. He was 19.
"Nothing lasts forever," Richard Petty said. "We found out in 2000 that the good lord didn't want a Petty here for-ever. Once we lost Adam, we took a different focus on what the Petty operation was going to be from then on. We knew one of these days it would happen. If Adam had been here, we'd have thought it would never happen."
Richard and Kyle will stay involved with NASCAR through ownership, business ventures and broadcasting. Of course, there's also the Victory Junction Gang Camp for ill and disabled kids. Kyle Petty's involvement with the camp has made him one of the more popular and respected drivers around, even without the wins and overall suc-cess to necessarily back all that support.
"It's tough because some of us have been around forever and whenever you see that, it's sort of a wake-up call that our time is really limited," said another part-time veteran, Mark Martin. "He's a very important part of the sport. He'll do great doing TV and we'll all feel like he's still part of the community whether he's in the booth or behind the wheel."
Petty says he hadn't thought much about the family name reaching the finish line.
"Maybe there was a time when you thought about that, but after Adam's accident there was always going to come a day," Petty said. "I would rather be in control of that day. I'm the one that wants to say, 'I don't want to do it any-more.' I don't to be forced to (hear) 'you can't come now."'
Petty, the analyst, has one piece of advice for Petty, the driver: Don't hang up the helmet quite yet.
"One day I'm going to wake up and say, 'This isn't for me anymore. That's it,"' Petty said. "It's not that time."