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NASCAR Mailbox: What’s Next for Danica Patrick & Richard Petty Motorsports?

It’s mid-September, and the NASCAR silly season is really heating up.

Teams need to get deals done, sooner rather than later, whether they like it or not. The paperwork needs to be filled out as organizations begin to map out their line-ups for the 2018 season and beyond.

However, as crunch time hits, Smithfield Foods took a massive bite out of Richard Petty Motorsports’ future. The meat processing firm is departing the mid-tier team for the much-larger and more powerful Stewart-Haas Racing, which can give the company a larger return-on-investment (ROI) as the company continues to show its dedication to the sport.

But now that Smithfield and driver Aric Almirola are leaving RPM, it leaves the Ford team in a peculiar situation and presents many unknowns moving forward.

The move also puts Danica Patrick out of a ride at SHR. Now, the former IndyCar Series driver must decide whether it’s time to start a family or move onto her next NASCAR gig.

Have a question for NASCAR Mailbox? Tweet me at @JosephNASCAR or shoot me an email at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com! 

Q: Now that Smithfield is leaving Richard Petty Motorsports, what is next for them? – Stacey H., Atlanta

A: This is an awful situation for RPM. Smithfield reportedly had a hand-shake agreement with RPM co-owner Andrew Murstein and CEO Brian Moffitt.

Murstein, 53, is a medallion expert in New York City, while Moffitt formerly served as Petty’s sponsorship guru. The dynamic duo, however, have hit a potential pot hole that might give them permanent damage that can’t be fixed.

Having Murstein involved in NASCAR is vital for the sport, being he also owns the New York Lizards, a Major League Lacrosse team. With an owner who sees how other entities operate, he provides crucial feedback in helping NASCAR owners survive.

But since the duo took control of RPM, the team has faced a massive undertaking. From separating itself from Roush Fenway Racing and creating its own chassis department to downsizing to a single-car organization, RPM is a completely different team from what it was when Murstein and Moffitt took over.

With Smithfield, the organization’s primary sponsor departing, it leaves a massive funding gap in the company’s plans.

Smithfield is one of the handful of nearly full-time sponsors in NASCAR’s premier division, being slapped on the No. 43 car for about 30 races per year. While it seems likely Almirola will follow Smithfield to SHR, there is the possibility the company could align itself with a veteran at SHR, with Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and others still in limbo.

RPM’s best bet will be to sign Darrell Wallace Jr. to pilot the No. 43 machine for the future. Wallace was incredibly impressive in his four-race stint with the team, earning a best finish of 11th at Kentucky Speedway.

Working with the RPM crew, he settled in quite nicely after fainting on pit road following the contest at Pocono Raceway. Moreover, NASCAR and Ford executives are pushing to get Wallace into a full-time Cup ride, and this is clearly the perfect opportunity for him.

Aligning the Petty name with one of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity graduates is a great way to gather attention from sponsors and fans. However, for some mind-blowing reason, NASCAR’s lone African-American driver doesn’t have a sponsor committed to helping grow his career, and that will need to change if he’s going to be with RPM — or any Cup team — in 2018.

Let’s also remember that RPM has a second charter, which is being leased to Go Fas Racing this year. If RPM doesn’t want to keep the charter, they will need to sell it, and that could give them a solid income if they can’t find a full sponsor fleet to start the year.

Expect to also see current RPM sponsors step up to the plate if the team can’t find other companies to come on board, especially early in the season. But with NASCAR and Ford pushing for deals left and right, RPM can very well excel in 2018 with Wallace driving its main entry.

Q: Where will Danica Patrick end up? – Mark K., Charlotte

A: I’m not totally convinced Patrick will remain as a full-time NASCAR driver after this season.

Look, she’s 35 and has been dating Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for several years. Additionally, she’s been setting herself up for a post-NASCAR career, with several projects off-the-track that will set her up financially for years to come.

From writing a book that is coming out in January 2018 to creating a clothing line with HSN, she is a busy bee.

People keep pointing to sponsorship woes causing her departure, but even after the whole Nature’s Bakery debacle, her car has been fully-funded. However, with Smithfield moving over, it’s likely they will take over a chunk of the sponsorship on the No. 10 entry, meaning SHR can move her sponsors over to teammates Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch should they decide to not stay with Patrick.

But if Patrick can’t find a quality ride, she might choose to hang up her helmet and start a family (if she wants to start one). Should she continue racing, however, the options are wide open if she retains her current sponsors.

The deal she has with Aspen Dental alone might be enough to propel her to a high-quality ride in NASCAR’s premier division. With entries open at Richard Childress Racing, Furniture Row Racing and a few other mid-level teams, there are options for her to continue driving.

Patrick’s impact on the sport hasn’t been as immense as NASCAR expected it to be, with her progress stalling mid-pack on the racetrack. But she still serves as one of the few recognizable names in the sport, and with veterans retiring, it is a prime time for her to use her brand to land her a job.

A great spot would be at RCR, re-aligning Aspen Dental with the team and giving her one last shot at rejuvenating her career. As per usual, it will all come down to money.

About Joseph Wolkin

Joseph started with Fronstretch in Aug. 2014 and worked his way up to become an editor in less than a year. A native of Whitestone, New York, Joseph writes for NASCAR Pole Position magazine as a weekly contributor, along with being a former intern at Newsday and the Times Beacon Record Newspapers, each on Long Island. With a focus on NASCAR, he runs our social media pages and writes the NASCAR Mailbox column, along with other features for the site.

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13 comments

  1. Danica should take a year off, give Ricky a kid (or two), then maybe come back.

  2. Loads of unsubstaciated rumor, speculation & hearsay. So much so that you ought’a call this piece: “Smithfield back-fat chewing”.
    So, to summarize for the class: AA, DP, KK, MK, KuBu & Bubba are unsigned & seat trolling for ’18.
    First of all, what makes you think… “the [RPM / Amirola / Smithfield] move ..puts Patrick out of a ride…”? I have hear nothing official from the personal talent, race teams, or sponsors that links DP’s release with anything related to Smithfield or RPM. And you yourself say that SHR, given the addition of Smithfield, has an overage of sponsorship. So, clearly something else has to be driving the DP release, which would seemingly be her results. But I find that criticism lacking, considering the ’16 driver’s points final tally: DP – P24th, Bowyer – P27th. Lest we forget the ’15 driver’s points final tally: DP – P24th, Stewart – P28th.
    And I think we can scrap “The Traitor’s” likeness from any team that appreciates their affiliation with Ford Performance. In ’15, given the spectacularly vulgar & unsporting fashion [Martinsville / Logano] that he likely cost Ford a Cup, I think it safe to say he will NEVER drive a (RPM – OR – SHR) Ford professionally again. But given that RPM has been the subject of unsubstaciated manufacturer change rumors in the recent past, I think an RPM switch to Chevy, Dodge or, heaven forbid, Yota would need to occur prior to RPM inking MK. While I don’t think all of that is implausible, I consider it HIGHLY unlikely for ’18.
    I’m not much for speculation, but I suppose KK, KuBu or Santa Clause is technically a possibility for either the RPM or SHR seat. Just the same, I think it premature to rule DP out of the RPM convo too. But as you yourself say, Bubba has been getting groomed for that RPM seat, & seems to be the likely direction for RPM.And the progression of Aric to the #10 seems the “natural choice” for SHR. That’s the safe bet, yet again, as of this afternoon, this are all as firm as concrete in only their hyperbolic & speculative hearsay rumor status. Aka: all we know is that we know NADA!

    • Stewart had an excuse in 2015 that was either the year when he got hurt or had all the “murder” accusations to defend, wasn’t it? Likewise, Bowyer was driving for a 3rd tier team in 2016 that wasn’t expected to do jack, right? So what was Danica’s excuse for 5 straight years of sub-20 results? Not exactly apples to apples. Also weak to basically take the worst years of Stewart’s and Bowyer’s career to make that argument work. Plus Tony was the owner, he wasn’t going to let himself go until he was ready.

      Boy, Danica to RPM would be hilarious after Petty’s appraisal of her racing skills a couple of years ago. I don’t see it happening when there are other choices, but that sure would be ironic.

      • Furthermore, in 2016 when Bowyer finished in P27 in the abysmal #15 H Scott Motorsports Chevrolet he still had 3 top 10s to Danica’s 0.

  3. This article has many statements included that very much open for debate. For example,

    “Smithfield reportedly had a hand-shake agreement with RPM co-owner Andrew Murstein and CEO Brian Moffitt.”
    Smithfield has issued a statement denying any hand shake agreement.

    “Having Murstein involved in NASCAR is vital for the sport, being he also owns the New York Lizards, a Major League Lacrosse team.”
    How can owning a lacrosse team be ‘vital’ to NASCAR? Lacrosse is a very minor sport that few care about except friends and relatives. If he was the owner of Microsoft or Apple, his presence might be ‘vital’!

    “Wallace was incredibly impressive in his four-race stint with the team”
    Incredibly impressive?? Come on! Maybe better than expected with one eleventh place finish but being ‘incredible’ would mean a couple of top fives!

    “(Danica’s) car has been fully-funded”
    Complete nonsense! The reason Danica is leaving is lack of sponsorship (by her own admission) as well as weak performance. If a company had offered to sponsor Danica for 30 races, she never would have left SHR. At Richmond, Danica even sponsored herself with her Warrior line of athletic wear.

    “The deal she has with Aspen Dental alone might be enough to propel her to a high-quality ride in NASCAR’s premier division.”
    Aspen Dental seems to be a fine sponsor willing to spend scare sponsorship dollars however the company was scheduled to sponsor her for only four races in 2017 and then after the Nature’s Bakery problem stepped up for ‘double digital’ sponsorship. Would that be a ten races? Would that carry into 2018? Aspen Dental’s sponsorship is not enough to ‘propel her to a high quality ride’; if it was, she be with SHR in 2018.

    • A huge slice of the pie got glossed over above, re: Murstein. He is founder, president, board member & largest shareholder of Medallion Financial, a NYC financial services corp. I agree with the “vitality” assessment, but it’s out of context without mentioning Murstein’s net-worth, which is about 1B USD.
      If having such invertors is not “vital” to Nascar, it most certainly is essential to RPM existence, no doubt.

      • True enough about Murstein. However the medallion business was under a lot of pressure from Uber. At one time it was estimated that the value of a medallion was down 50%. If I remember correctly the good old boys had called in a lot of favors to put down the upstarts. Haven’t kept up with it in a while, but maybe old Andrew isn’t willing to increase his investment these days. And the Petty’s never were.
        This will shake out soon enough. But my money is they wont be back unless the value of that other charter is more than I think it is.

        • An unfortunately but safe bet. And I will add, the reason Murstein / Medallion invested in RPM is the intrinsic value of Richard Petty’s iconic name recognition. If the stature of that name alone is insufficient to attract / retain a sponsor (like Smithfield), unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope for RPM’s future.

  4. Its likely that the only way for RPM to survive is for Ford to arrange sponsorship for a combination of Wallace driving their car. That said their alliance with RPM hasn’t always been solid. Plus if the rumors of a possible pullback by GM and Ford are true this could be the chance.

    As for Danica with a dwindling car count now and for the foreseeable future, this may be the time to move on. She most likely can, by focusing more on her other interests now, rather than later, do quite well with the rest of her working career.

  5. RPM should try to find a buyer. They’ve been fighting a losing battle for the last decade.

    Danica should do something else or look for an Xfinity ride. She just isn’t good enough for a top ride in Cup and the only way she will get one is to buy her way in with sponsorship money, which seems to be the way things work now anway (money trumps talent ).

    • [I repeat] I find the DP results criticism lacking, considering the ’16 driver’s points final tally: DP – P24th, Bowyer – P27th. Lest we forget the ’15 driver’s points final tally: DP – P24th, Stewart – P28th.
      Also, that faithful ’13 day, when DP announced Ricky was her BF, I speculated, Danica, Ricky & Lil E would form their own team. And now, with BKR shuttered, you can add SuperBrad to the ownership mix.
      Final answer! You heard it here first, & I reserve the right to tall ya’, “I told ya’ so”! Lol 😀