Although Brian Scott in his retirement statement on Thursday claimed that his No. 44 Ford is “a new team”, the reality is that the Richard Petty Motorsports ride enjoys one of the most interesting lineages currently seen in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage.
Recently, the team has underperformed, failing to tally a top-20 finish in season-ending owner’s points since 2012 and sitting 33rd in the standings currently. But in the past, the team has found plenty of success.
Believe it or not, the team actually started off in 1994 as the part time No. 44 Ford owned by Charles Hardy. The car only showed up for six races, being piloted by Bobby Hillin Jr., Jimmy Hensley, and Kenny Wallace. Wallace had the team’s best finish, a ninth at Talladega.
The next season, the team went full-time when Bill Elliott left Junior Johnson’s race team and purchased half of the team. Elliott finished eighth in points before buying the team out the following year.
Elliott had trouble staying in the car in his time in the renumbered No. 94 Ford. In 1996, Elliott missed eight races after sustaining injuries in a crash at Talladega. In 1998, the team became an answer to a trivia question; Elliott’s father passed before the fall Dover race and Elliott had to skip that weekend’s race. Elliott turned to a then-young Busch Series driver by the name of Matt Kenseth to make his first ever Cup Series start. Kenseth turned heads and finished an impressive sixth in the race.
Although Elliott had some good years driving for his own team, finishing eighth twice in the points, he never won and didn’t live up to expectations made by his fine run in the early 90’s in Junior Johnson’s machine.
Things changed in 2001, when Elliott sold the team to Ray Evernham, who formed Evernham Motorsports with Elliott’s renumbered No. 9 as the cornerstone for both the team and for Dodge’s return to the sport. Elliott recovered from finishing 21st in points the prior two seasons to finishing 15th in 2001. More importantly, Elliott finally broke through and won a late season race at Homestead, the first win for the team and Elliott’s first triumph since 1994.
Elliott would win four races overall in the No. 9 in three seasons before retiring from full time competition. Kasey Kahne was named the new driver in 2004. Kahne had an admirable showing, finishing 13th in points and having five runner-up finishes enroute to being named the rookie of the year. Kahne broke through and won in 2005 but stumbled to 23rd in points.
Kahne’s 2006 was arguably his best season on record. Kahne won a series leading six races and was shaping up to be a contender in the Chase but stumbled early and struggled with inconsistency, finishing eighth in points.
Kahne dropped off again in 2007 but won the All Star Race and two other races in 2008. Kahne missed the Chase however, and ended up 14th in points before improving in the following season to finish 10th.
2007-2010 was a tumultuous time for Evernham Motorsports. In mid-2007, Evernham sold half of the team to businessman George Gillette. Gillette had a rough time in NASCAR, partially because of the crashing economy and partially because he wasn’t a good team owner. In 2009, the team merged with Petty Enterprises to become Richard Petty Motorsports, and the next year Kahne struggled before leaving the team late in the season. Aric Almirola drove the final five races in the No. 9 Ford before making way the next season for Marcos Ambrose.
Ambrose stayed with the team for four seasons, winning two Watkins Glen races. But Ambrose never really clicked on oval tracks, never finishing better than 18th in points and only beating his teammate in one season. Ambrose left NASCAR after 2014.
Sam Hornish Jr. jumped into the No. 9 for 2015, but struggled mightily in his jump up from a fantastic season in Team Penske’s XFINITY Series car. Teammate Aric Almirola almost made the Chase, so it wasn’t a problem with equipment. Hornish never really seemed to fit in with Petty, and Hornish has gone back down and won a race driving part time in the XFINITY Series this season.
Some two decades later, that’s the full history, from the No. 44 Ford to No. 44 Ford, 22 years and multiple drivers and owners in between. The future is unknown for this car, with no announced driver or sponsor for next season, but with the presence of a hard earned charter, this team’s linage will keep going for years to come.