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It's good to be king...again

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Wearing his signature cowboy hat and sunglasses, "King" Richard Petty walked into Victory Lane at Infineon Raceway to congratulate his winning driver and take a swig of red wine as part of the victory celebration.

Kahne gave Petty his first win as a team owner in a decade, dating back to when John Andretti drove the legendary No.43 STP car to victory in the 1999 spring race at Martinsville. Kahne, who had never finished better than 23rd at Sonoma, held off points leader and six-time road course winner Tony Stewart on several late-race restarts to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

The 71-year-old Petty was all smiles on a sunny day in California's wine country, as Kahne's teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler also finished in the top-10.

"It was one of those picture-perfect days," Petty said.

Richard Petty won as a team owner for the first time in a decade.
During the offseason, Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports, with the organization renamed Richard Petty Motorsports. Petty, George Gillett Jr. and Ray Evernham share ownership in the team.

Petty Enterprises, founded by family patriarch Lee Petty in 1949, had been NASCAR's most-famed racing organization, winning 10 Cup championship and a record 268 races. The team ceased to exist after sponsorship for this year could not be found for Petty's No.43 and No.45 cars.

Meanwhile, Evernham - who guided Jeff Gordon to three Cup championships as his crew chief - created Evernham Motorsports in 1999, spearheading Dodge's return to NASCAR. In 2007, Evernham partnered with Gillett to form GEM.

Petty and Evernham now have limited roles with the team, which fields Dodges for Kahne, Allmendinger, Sadler and Reed Sorenson.

"To see Richard Petty in the winner's circle with us today, that was big," Kahne said.

Petty's story was a nice one, but it was Kahne that grabbed an equal measure of the headlines.

In notching the first victory for RPM, Kahne also snapped a 37-race winless drought. His last win came in June 2008 at Pocono, while driving for GEM.

Kahne moved to within three points of 12th-place Juan Pablo Montoya with 10 races remaining before the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship begins. The top-12 drivers after Richmond in September will qualify for NASCAR's playoffs.

Kahne made the Chase in 2006, finishing eighth in points that year.

"I think we have a great opportunity if we keep showing up and working as hard as we have been to make the Chase," Kahne said.

Despite the win, RPM continues to face financial difficulties, as the team recently made another round of employee layoffs due to decreased manufacturer support from Dodge. Chrysler's bankruptcy has forced Dodge to significantly cut funding to its teams.

Last month, Tom Reddin resigned his position as chief executive officer of RPM.

Despite tough economic times, Petty remains optimistic about his team's future.

"From a financial end we'll be there next week," Petty said. "We've got enough money to get to the next race."

After running next weekend at New Hampshire, the Sprint Cup Series will head to Daytona, where Petty will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his historic 200th and final win as a driver. He also holds the NASCAR records for most starts (1,185) and poles (126).

Petty said when the team merger was announced earlier this year that he wanted to get back to winning.

It happened on Sunday.

And a lot of fans were surely glad to see him back in Victory Lane.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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