Richard Petty Motorsports will have a new look next season. On the same day as Smithfield’s announcement that the company would not return to RPM and its No. 43 Ford for 2018, the team announced Aric Almirola will also not return to the car.
Almirola has been the car’s primary driver for six years. He’s also the owner of RPM’s most recent win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, a team release indicated Tuesday afternoon the 33-year-old would depart after 2017.
The team also confirmed reports Smithfield had departed the organization effective at the end of the season. This sponsor change is happening despite, according to team owner Richard Petty, a verbal agreement in place to continue.
“We have had numerous discussions with Smithfield Foods regarding the extension of our relationship dating as far back as February,” Petty said in a team statement. “Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us, and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship. I come from a time when we did major deals like STP on a handshake.
“I’m sad to see this is where we are now. This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction.”
Though Almirola’s destination has not been announced, there is speculation that he will follow Smithfield to Stewart-Haas Racing, where the company revealed it will move this morning.
The release also did not reveal a replacement for Almirola. Darrell Wallace Jr., who filled in for Almirola in four races earlier this year due to injury, is rumored to get the ride.
Since joining RPM full-time in 2012, Almirola has a win, nine top fives and 27 top 10s to his credit. He sits 30th in the 2017 MENCS standings with two top-five and three top-10 finishes.
However, a wreck at Kansas in May left the veteran sidelined for eight races with a fractured vertebrae. Almirola has yet to lead a lap or score a top-10 finish since his return.