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Did You Notice? Petty’s Certain Death, Roush Sucker-punched & Earnhardt’s New Prodigy

Editor’s Note: Did You Notice? was co-written by Tom Bowles and Bryan Davis Keith this week.

Did You Notice? How Richard Petty Motorsports is facing almost certain death?

I’ll never forget (Tom) when I got the call. It was December of 2008, and I’d just had my third source verify Petty Enterprises was being sold just months after being bought by Boston Ventures. That day, as news of my report spread like wildfire, the buzz in the room instantaneously changed from excitement to sadness. All anyone could talk about is Petty stories, memories, and worries about the future for the man known simply as The King.

All the while, it was the most exciting and depressing moment in my career. I couldn’t help but think, “We’ll never see Petty own a race car again.”

Since then, of course, the Petty family has continued to defy the odds. The team merged with George Gillett’s group and then yet another time with Yates the end of last season. But at this point, this group is all out of investors and desperate car owners to merge with in order to help them.

That likely spells doomsday for this team after Kahne’s departure, even if they’re able to successfully wipe out the $90 million in debt they’d accumulated. Looking ahead, Petty’s got just two “B” level drivers on the roster – Elliott Sadler and AJ Allmendinger – to go along with a family-owned package (Paul Menard) that’ll bolt anytime for the right price. Yet there’s virtually no free agents available this season (a la Bobby Labonte in 2005) to bring onto the program with the attempt at revitalizing it, forcing them to build with what they got. And considering their sponsorships are a patchwork of “a few races here, a few races there” with different companies… it’s not going to take long for that deal to fall apart.

More importantly, you wonder whether Richard Petty wants to go through the rebuilding mess one last time. His wife, Lynda, is undergoing treatment for cancer, and the man himself is in his early 70s. Will there be a desire to start from scratch?

I just don’t think so.

Did You Notice? The degree to which Roush got sucker-punched on this Kasey Kahne deal? Let’s review:

  • Roush loses the primary driver of the “B” team they created to try and mimic the Hendrick mode of success. Now, that team (RPM) may not even be around beyond this season, costing the program crucial engineering, information, and other benefits on the racetrack.
  • An offer to push Kahne towards the No. 6 car doesn’t happen, leaving UPS and David Ragan with a few ruffled feathers in his wake.
  • In a touch of irony, the team Kahne was supposed to bring down while contracted with Ford back in 2003 is the very same one he ended up with: Hendrick Motorsports.

Considering the superpower Hendrick is slowly building itself up to be, now is a crucial moment for Roush to fight back and show they’re still a key player on the NASCAR scene. Yes, they have Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, but their development programs (Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Colin Braun) are equivalent to a Demolition Derby. And those three cars, try as they might, are no match for an eight-car fleet run out of the Hendrick and Stewart-Haas stables in 2011.

Right now, in the battle amongst the rich it’s Hendrick sitting pretty with all the cash. And until Roush does something in response… this deal will go down as the one where Hendrick pulled the wool over their eyes and distanced themselves from a team yet to win a race in 2010.

Did You Notice? The awful irony in Kelly Bires getting fired the same day John Wes Townley remains with his organization? Bires, who had just five races to prove himself, ends up without a second chance just two months into the season. Keep in mind Bires had four top-20 finishes and wrecked just once, so it’s not like he was finishing behind Eric McClure each week.

In contrast, Townley had wrecked four times in five races (not including the Phoenix practice wreck) while never finding the speed that’s eluded him throughout his whole Nationwide Series career. But as long as Daddy keeps dangling that paycheck, he’ll be sitting in the seat for a long time to come.

What a shame that money, not talent, is making the difference across all of NASCAR’s top levels today.

Did You Notice? That JR Motorsports’ new Nationwide driver is… Steve Arpin? OK, it’s not official yet, but all signs are pointing to this energetic Canadian as the next driver in line for a seat at JRM with Bires now out of the picture.

Arpin, who is coming off a convincing first career ARCA victory at Salem Speedway this past Sunday, has been inundated with what he described to Frontstretch as hundreds and hundreds of emails and phone calls from his fans. “Let me put it this way,” he told Frontstretch Tuesday night, “my life has completely changed in the last 48 hours. It’s been absolutely incredible.

“When I came into ARCA racing, I knew I could win races. But as we all know, knowing it in your head and doing it are two different things. We were able to back it up and go win a race.”

For all the excitement, Arpin was very thorough in his gratitude, taking time to thank the Nelson family, Jeff Taylor Motorsports, Trent and Davin of the Emnel family from Canada, his parents Chuck and Gail Arpin and family business Pinewood Sports, Paul and John Leach and Lo-N-Bro Enterprises, Jay Clark and Clyde Ditmars for their continued support of his racing career.

Arpin’s energy, gratitude, and talent behind the wheel paid off on the ARCA level, with his team preparing to announce this week that funding has now been secured to allow his No. 55 Venturini Motorsports team to run the full 2010 ARCA Racing Series schedule. That funding includes a two-race deal with Mike’s Hard Lemonade, who will be featured on the No. 55 car this weekend at Texas and the following ARCA event at Talladega.

What’s more, others have taken notice of this rising talent outside the ARCA ranks. Sources tell Frontstretch that Arpin is now the leading candidate to take the seat with the team that was formerly held by Bires.

When asked about the chances of seeing him in a JRM car in the near future, Arpin revealed, “I’ve been working hard with JR Motorsports, actually since before Rockingham last year. We’ve developed a great relationship, and we definitely keep in touch. We’re definitely doing as much as we can to get an opportunity to get me in the seat.

“Our original plan over the offseason was, working hand in hand with the folks at JRM, to run the No. 7 car in all the races that Danica [Patrick] wasn’t running. [But] we’re definitely still talking a bunch. There’s nothing set in stone yet, but we’re definitely working on it.

“I guess we’ll just have to see what comes of it,” he said with a chuckle.

Here’s what we’ll see: I’d bet the sponsorship dollars that Arpin was so excited to announce that we’ll see him in a JRM Nationwide car a lot sooner than later.

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