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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Richard Petty Motorsports’ Big Change

The famed No. 43 car is running near the middle of the pack in 2016, averaging a finish of 23.5. Aric Almirola is no longer competing for top 15s on a weekly basis. Instead, his Richard Petty Motorsports group is fortunate to end a race on the lead lap.

Along with Almirola, teammate Brian Scott is also competing in the lower half of the field. His car is often seen off the lead lap, when seen at all. In fact, he has five lead lap finishes through 24 races, six fewer than his elder teammate.

Amidst the struggles at RPM, a team seemingly on the up-rise from 2013 until last year, the organization has called for some drastic changes.

Sammy Johns, formerly the Richard Petty Motorsports Director of Operations, was released from his contractual obligations with the team on Wednesday morning. Effective immediately, former crew chiefs Philippe Lopez and Scott McDougall, will fill in the void at the racetrack and at the team’s Mooresville, NC shop.

However, on the brighter side of things, it’s time for NASCAR’s second annual throwback-themed weekend.

As the cars will hit the egg-shaped oval of Darlington Raceway, there will be a different feel once again. Uniforms, hats and shirts will all feature a blast from the past, with throwback schemes being thrown in fans’ faces like pie at a carnival.

NASCAR is using the throwback weekend as the ultimate marketing tool after last year’s successful debut. Teams have gone all-out this year, with only a handful number of drivers not showcasing a scheme of either one of their heroes or just something to recognize a sponsor.

Q: Why did RPM get rid of Sammy Johns? – Mike L., Charlotte.

A: RPM has been in big trouble since it began to build its own chassis. In doing so, it terminated the major alliance it had with Roush Fenway Racing, which has taken away the team’s main source of speed.

Almirola’s average finish has decreased from 17.9 last year to 23.5, the worst since he began racing full-time in NASCAR’s premier division in 2012. Additionally, Scott’s average finish is 28.4, down from Sam Hornish, Jr.’s 24.3 in 2015.

Clearly, something needed to be changed at a team that made the Chase two years ago.

Johns has been the director of operations at RPM since 2010 after serving as director of competition since 2001 when Ray Evernham first started Evernham Motorsports. Since Brian Moffitt purchased Gillett-Evernham Motorsports and became the CEO, the team has experienced major changes, with the most obvious being a new driver line-up and starting a chassis department.

“The past several years, we have made significant investments in our organization with the goal of winning races and to compete at a high level on a weekly basis,” Moffitt said. “We now have direction over our own chassis and bodies and work closely with Ford Performance on technology and engineering. With these investments, unfortunately, we have not seen the on-track results that we expected this season.

“As we look ahead to 2017, we are taking steps forward to improve our on-track product to better serve our partners and fans. This means analyzing every part of our organization and making adjustments where needed. Sammy Johns has been a big part of our organization; he helped us succeed in many different ways and helped us become a winning race team. We wish him nothing but the best going forward.”

Moving forward, the change marks a new beginning for RPM. It’s a much-needed change that will likely take time to have an impact on the organization.

However, as RPM looks to revamp its efforts for 2017, having some new faces running the program can certainly be a breath of fresh air for a team struggling to compete inside of the top 20.

Q: With NASCAR going back to Darlington, why all of the throwback schemes at this track and none other? Why pick Darlington and no where else? – Jenny R., Richmond.

A: Let’s start with the roots of racing at Darlington.

Darlington is known for its Labor Day weekend race – the Southern 500. There really is nothing like it. Going back to the grassroots style of NASCAR racing with its oddly-shaped surface, Darlington provides a new topping for NASCAR fans and drivers alike.

The egg-shaped track is different compared to others, being that it’s simply like no other. While Martinsville Speedway is NASCAR’s oldest track, it isn’t as unique as Darlington. And the surrounding environment of being a true southern American area also helps make it truly distinct.

While Martinsville would have been a solid choice, it isn’t the only short track on the NASCAR circuit. It also isn’t unique in the sense of its characteristics, with plenty of short tracks around the country built after Martinsville.

When NASCAR announced it would bring Darlington back to its traditional date instead of Mother’s Day weekend, it was a great fit to bring back traditional schemes.

Thus far, the schemes have been a hit. In 2015, approximately half the Sprint Cup field got in on the throwback schemes. However, this year, all but a handful of drivers will be sporting symbolic paint schemes, including teams in the XFINITY Series.

Why do it? Well, it’s certainly a great marketing scheme. Teams are going to make a fortune off merchandise from the one-off paint schemes, with diecast sales likely skyrocketing, along with hats and shirts. Clearly, it’s just a hit once again and hopefully, it will always be a tradition.

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