- Associated Press - Friday, April 20, 2012

KANSAS CITY, KAN. (AP) - There will be a familiar paint scheme at Kansas Speedway on Sunday.

Richard Petty Motorsports is putting the traditional Petty Blue and STP Day-Glo Red colors on the Ford Fusion driven by Aric Almirola for the STP 400, part of a weekend celebration surrounding 40 years of sponsorship between the automotive company and one of NASCAR’s most famous drivers.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” said Petty, who drove cars carrying STP’s banner from 1972-92. “Just to see the red and blue, I’m a little prejudiced to those colors.”

Few brands have become more closely associated with a single athlete. Four of Petty’s record seven titles came carrying the STP logo, along with four Daytona 500 wins. Almirola pointed out that he’ll be making his 43rd Sprint Cup start in the No. 43 car.

“I’m excited about it, to celebrate 40 years,” Almirola said Friday. “This is the most iconic car in NASCAR. I grew up watching that car go around.”

As part of the anniversary, STP announced a $43,000 donation to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which was founded by the Petty family and opened in 2004. The youth camp in Randleman, N.C., provides a place for terminally ill and chronically ill children to spend time.

There are plans to build another camp in the Kansas City area in the next few years.

“I should have had a bigger number, 210 or something. That would have made it even better,” Petty said with a smile. “The camp has grown so much bigger than I ever anticipated.”


DRESS IN LAYERS: Greg Biffle called it the worst-case scenario outside rain.

The weather at Kansas Speedway on Friday was overcast and windy, and the temperature barely nudged over 50 degrees by early afternoon, when fans who turned out to watch practice for the Trucks series race Saturday and the Sprint Cup race on Sunday.

By the time those races start, temps are forecast to be in the mid-70s and sunny.

“When we first show up on Friday, the race track is what we call `green,’ because it doesn’t have a lot of rubber down. So it tends to be fastest,” Biffle said. “Well, you compound that with cool temperatures and this being the coldest day of the weekend, that really compounds the grip.”

Biffle expects the track to lose grip Saturday and be “the complete opposite on Sunday.”

“It’s difficult to get your car set up for those conditions,” he said.


JOHNSON’S NEW REP: Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson reached a deal with Octagon to provide marketing expertise and capitalize on endorsement and commercial opportunities.

Johnson has been working with Creative Artists Agency.

“Jimmie’s value, image and business philosophy are consistent with ours, which makes him an ideal fit,” Octagon founder Phil de Picciotto said. “He is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, and his commitment to sustained excellence over the long term is second to none.”

Johnson won last season’s fall race at Kansas Speedway. He’ll be trying to help Hendrick Motorsports snap a 13-race winless drought, its longest since the 2002-03 seasons.


HUNTING FOR HERITAGE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is starting to peck around in his past, and his sudden interest in genealogy has created ripples throughout the family.

Earnhardt said he never knew much about his relatives beyond Ralph Earnhardt, his grandfather and the father of the late Dale Earnhardt. Dale Jr. wound up hiring an expert to help establish a family tree, and that led to a family reunion of sorts.

“Never thought past Ralph all these years,” he said, “and I started getting into his father and Ralph’s grandfather, and I found their burial plots, so me and my grandmother Martha, and my sister and my mom Brenda and my girlfriend rode up there one day.”

The graves of relatives born in the early 1800s were found near Concord, N.C.

“It’s really cool to stand there over somebody that was responsible for you being there, and that was pretty neat,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Once I got into it, I started realizing the importance of it.”

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