NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Rumors Fly for Richard Petty Motorsports

In the midst of a silly season that has been particularly silly, a series of reports popped up this week about the future of Richard Petty Motorsports.  The King’s team potentially has a lot on its plate in the next few months.  At the moment, there is no guarantee that Aric Almirola will return to the No. 43 car next year.  Sponsorship is a question mark as well, with the team working to retain Smithfield beyond 2017.

Additionally, while RPM remains a one-car outfit, the team still owns two charters.  Following the closure of the No. 44 team, Petty leased to charter to Go FAS Racing.  Per NASCAR’s charter rules, RPM would either have to use that charter or sell it next year.  If the team is able to field a second car in 2018, Darrell Wallace Jr. remains the most likely candidate, although sponsorship will be the determining factor.

The latest development for RPM is Saturday’s report, originally from Catchfence.com, that the team will not renew the lease on its current shop in Mooresville, North Carolina.

The move might amount to no major changes for the team.  It is plausible that Petty and his associates determined that they needed a shop that would better serve the team’s needs, and will return to the track in the same form in 2018.  The real change would happen if the team’s needs required a new technical alliance or manufacturer relationship.

Petty’s team has fielded Fords since 2010, when the organization absorbed the remnants of Yates Racing.  The team continues to use Roush Yates engines, and has received technical support from Roush Fenway Racing off and on.  The arrangement has produced modest success.  Marcos Ambrose captured two wins at Watkins Glen International for the team in 2011 and 2012, and Almirola took the No. 43 car back to victory lane in Daytona’s summer race in 2014.  The win propelled Almirola into the playoffs that year, and the team nearly made its way back to the postseason in 2015.

The 2016 season was a different story.

Almirola and Brian Scott struggled mightily, and neither of them scored a top-10 finish until the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway.  When Scott decided to step away from full-time driving, Almirola remained as RPM’s sole driver.

This year has presented its own set of challenges for the team.  Almirola got off to a better start than in previous years, and he appeared to have a better shot at making the playoffs than last year.  Of course, a terrifying crash at Kansas Speedway left Almirola with a back injury and on the sidelines for seven races.  With Almirola 30th in points, the No. 43 team could still make the playoffs with a win, but it would require a perfect performance in one of the next two races and he did finish fourth at Richmond Raceway in 2015.

The unfortunate reality is that, after trying to build a winning team with a stable foothold in NASCAR, Petty finds himself almost back where he was nine years ago.  Back in 2008, with Petty Enterprises facing an uncertain future, The King forged a partnership with Boston Ventures in an effort to keep the team going.

However, Boston Ventures’ assistance was not enough to save Petty’s team, and the venerable organization merged with what was left of Gillette Evernham Motorsports to form RPM.  The ownership structure of the current team has changed a few times over the years.  Most notably, Petty gained primary control of the organization in 2011.

Petty certainly was not alone in his struggles.  The late 2000s featured a flurry of team mergers, contractions, and outright closures that decimated NASCAR’s middle class of race teams.  Even if Petty Enterprises is no more, The King has managed to outlast many of his fellow team owners who have left the sport in the last decade.

The trouble is that RPM’s goal has never advanced beyond survival.  The relative success of the team with Ambrose, Almirola and Kasey Kahne suggested that there was room for growth.  But inconsistency and sponsorship woes that never seemed to go away have kept Petty and his associates looking over their shoulders instead of ahead.  Despite years of hard work, another restructuring of ownership or new technical support might be the only way to keep The King’s court intact.

Many of this week’s reports have linked RPM with Richard Childress Racing.  Any partnership between the two would require a switch to Chevrolet for Petty’s team.  Planning a manufacturer switch this late in the year would be difficult, but there is no doubt that the possibility is still on the table.

Furthermore, if Smithfield still wants to be active in NASCAR, the company must decide if it wants to align itself with RPM, Almirola, or someone else.  Having Smithfield’s backing would give Almirola leverage in seeking a new ride if he decides to leave.

Wallace, meanwhile, deserves to be racing somewhere in NASCAR, and at this point he could wind up in any of the top three national series.  Bubba would likely contend for a championship in one of the lower divisions if he had the right equipment, but a shot at the Cup Series might be too good for him to pass up.

Hopefully, either RPM will return in 2018, or Petty will find some other way to remain involved in NASCAR.  Now, at 80 years old, Petty remains popular with the fans, a major link to NASCAR’s history, and a fantastic ambassador for the sport.  If there is a way for The King to keep riding into battle with his men, NASCAR will be better for it.

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TheNASCARJeff

I don’t believe Richard Petty absorbed anything from Robert Yates racing other then top thirty-five points. After the buyout from Boston Ventures then merger with George Gillette the team moved into the former Yates Racing shop.

IMO, I believe Richard Petty should do whatever it takes to regain rights to the name Petty Enterprise. It’s like the Wood Brothers changing to Eddie Wood Racing.. Richard Petty Motorsports just doesn’t sound right.

russ

Given the difficulty that larger, more visible teams are having securing funding, RPM’s struggles are no surprise. And historically they have changed manufacturers in an effort to help alleviate the funding problems. But to not renew the lease seems to be an additional step toward the inevitable.

Certainly it appears that baring some major intervention the days of RPM are coming towards a close.

Jerry

When it cost more to race than you make is what is wrong with racing, Petty started this Money madness when he signed with STP, that was the largest sponsor deal in the history of NASCAR, soon everyone needed more money, bigger haulers , more cars, more people, etc. I may be wrong on the numbers. But I think when Childers won his first championship with Dale I believe he had about 12 employees. I am not downing Petty , Have always been a Petty fan.

Bill B

Petty should just sell the team and be done with it. He can struggle along trying to keep the team alive for the rest of his life, or he can just let it go and stop worrying about it. From the way things look, it’s just a matter of time before it is no longer a viable team (and a little bit longer before the entire NASCAR business model is no longer viable as well).

John

Ha Ha if you think Nascar on life support

Tony

Good point. Bigger entry lists than ever, sponsors knocking each other over to get involved, record crowds…oh wait…

Al Torney

It’s unfortunate that the sport has lost its appeal to major sponsors. We can offer opinions as to why the audience continues to dwindle but it no longer serves any purpose. The writing has been on the wall for several years now. When a couple of big name sponsors cut back it should have been a wake up call. The one that comes to mind immediately is Budweiser and then Home Depot, Office Depot, UPS, DuPont and the list goes on. From what I read Lowes just upped for 2018 even though Johnson signed for three more years. Will they be gone. Having followed the sport for over 60 yrs. I can tell you that the actual racing has not changed that much except for the fact that the costs have risen dramatically over the years to the point that folks can’t afford to race anymore. Doesn’t matter whether it is a street stock at a local bull ring or Indianapolis, Daytona or Sonoma. The squeeze is on.

As far as NASCAR Cup racing goes the charter system has stymied anyone who may want to come into the sport. Brian France had the audacity to say that the charter system would encourage new ownership. Duh! I think there are more Charters then RPM’s that have to be sold after this year. We’ll see how many people are out there to buy them. I would suspect not many. Tommy Baldwin demonstrated that having a charter doesn’t necesssarily make it profitable or even sustainable.

One thing for certain is that the teams are going to have to make some bold decisions when it comes to cutting costs. Driver’s salaries are already in play according to Dale Jr but will that be enough? The norm has been when you save money in one area you spend it in another area. The next couple of years are going to determine the future of the sport if it hasn’t already been determined. When the big teams, Hendrick, Roush, Stewart-Haas and others, have sponsor woes it sure doesn’t bode well for the smaller teams. Losing someone like Richard Petty is no laughing matter. The only answer
To the problem is getting the millions of fans who have left the sport back. And this may be a bigger hurdle then can be jumped. It appears that the track owners are not confident of this happening since they’ll continue to reduce the seating capacity if their race tracks.

John

Saving money on drivers pay will allow teams to spend more in other areas through out the organization like R&D and Nascar might go to Air jacks so that 1 less pit crew member teams will have to pay and with plan for more 2 day shows for cup that will save teams $ on hotel and food costs

russ

The charter system was designed to DISCOURAGE new team owners. What it is designed to do is force someone wanting to get involved in Nascar to invest in an existing team. That is the way to raise the value in the existing teams.

As far as the teams cutting costs, the teams are the ones who raised the costs to where they are today. And remember this business model is all about spending somebody elses money, not yours. Some of the old school owners were actually taking sponsor money and rather than spend it on the car, buying investment properties etc. with it. One in particular, who was highly thought of was so bad that the sponsor had to put an accountant in the shop.

Sol Shine

The fact is the team has produced little in the way of results and that doesn’t help. Ambrose’s was a road course ringer, Almirola’s win was a lucky case of staying out for rain and other than that he’s produced little. Scott was a pay to play guy and produced exactly what would be expected, nothing. The whole situation with Nascar doesn’t help, when teams can’t even afford to pay proven talent and start bringing in kids paying them 1/10th of what top drivers used to make.

Meanwhile, they blissfully carry on with their hyped up perversion of racing and wonder where the fans are. The fans started walking away en masse around the time the dismal Chase was dreamed up and it continues unabated today. Fans want more road races and short tracks, and what do they respond with? Moving a race from a flat 1 mile to boring cookie cutter was just stunning stupidity. Down the tubes they slide, the question is how low will they slide?

John Irby

Andrew Murstein is the co-owner and money man of RPM. His family business made their fortune selling/leasing taxicab medallions in major cities such as New York and Boston. But that business model has to be getting shaky with rising competition from Uber & Lyft. Now he has a NASCAR team business that is struggling. I wonder how much longer he will keep putting his own money in RPM before cutting his losses and moving on?

I look at the team charts and wonder if another round of team mergers might be coming? Can RPM, Germain, JTG-Dougherty, Front Row Motorsports, BK Racing, et. al., keep on as separate teams with variable levels of (or no) factory support? Will BZF decide that he no longer needs to limit big organizations to less than 5 teams? Will a bigger team (SHR and RFR seem pretty shaky) unexpected fold in the next few years?

Michael Daly

With word Chevrolet will step in for RPM I’m doubtful the shop lease story amounts to anything beyond changing to a different shop. It’s clear Petty’s team can compete and contend, it’s also clear Almirola can race and so can Darrell Wallace Jr. My hunch is Chevrolet helps Petty re-form the two-car outfit for Almirola and Wallace.

F. Salazar

If that was to happen , I would think it would be a Name change only just to keep the Petty Name going .
Chevy and Petty could get some Notoriety from that move and RCR could make it work.

rg72

This same story could be repeated in the next few years with the likes of Roush and RCR. Yes they’ve combined for four wins this season but they’re all of the right place at the right time variety.

Gary '43' Taylor

What is wrong with RPM? “Consistently” qualify in mid 20’s finish mid 20’s!! Not Driver regardless who it is! Totally disheartenly to Petty fan’s!!!! Got to be worse for Petty and team I would guess! “Demoralizing”!!! Just riding around! Not Racing!!! Come on Richard!! U owe it to yourself and your “millions of Fan’s to ‘BE’ COMPETIVE’ not just “COMPLACENT’

F. Salazar

I think Richard Petty Racing Days as a name only team Owner are over , The Investment Group ruined that Team a long time ago. Richard needs to just be a NASCAR Ambassador Representative and Nothing more. Sounds sad but the man is 80 years old.

Steve Johnson

It looks like all sports are taking a hit in revenue. Use to be couldn’t get a seat to a Panthers game, but now you can get one on game day. Nascar has to adjust to the times like everything else changing. The money isn’t flowing as good right now so they all have to make changes, teams, sponsors, employees,Nascar, and us as fans. So we need to get ready for change, but none of us except change very good. just human response. I personally think we should race at one track per year not 2 races per year. If I’m Pocono, I would rather have one race with the stands somewhat filled, rather that 2 races a year with the stands only a third full. Your over head expense is about the same weather you have filled all the seats or fill a third of the seats. Plus having one race a year would create more excitement of the one event. I don’t think we have seen anything close to the down sizing that we are going to see in the next 5 years. So we better get ready.

Thomas

Just sad as Petty fan. No real future unless merger. It appears that racing for top 20 is the goal. It is sad because I remember Richard battling Dale at Bristol. Eric just is ok driver.

Nascarmike

Nascar needs to cut costs by limiting technology. Do away with 7 post shakers, pull down rigs and race simulators. This would reduce the need for so many engineers. Build the cars using the gray matter between the ears like Inman, Johnson, Fox and others. Do the drivers today need race simulators to drive? It’s my understanding HMS has close to 100 engineers building race cars, really? The cost would go way down, fans wouldn’t know the difference and much lower cost would open doors for more companies to get involved. Today you need 20 to 30 million dollars to be competitive.

Steve

Well, TV audiences are down, attendance is down, sponsorship value goes right along with those two issues. I think NASCAR’s problems started with the advent of the restrictor plate. Not just the plate its self, but the idea of passing rules for everything. Over legislating. It took NASCAR almost forty years to create this mess, it won’t be fixed overnight.

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