2009 Ride: No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge
2009 Primary Sponsors: McDonald’s (9 races), Valvoline (8 races), U.S. Air Force (6 races), Charter Communications (2 races), Super 8 Motels (2 races), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA.org) (2 races), Auto Value/Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts (2 races), Reynolds Wrap (2 races), Rosie’s Organic Chicken (1 race), Liberty Medical (1 race), Siemens (1 race)
2009 Owner: Richard Petty
2009 Crew Chiefs: Mike Shiplett (Feb. – Aug.), Sammy Johns (Aug. – Nov.), Kevin Buskirk (Nov.)
2009 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10, 0 poles, 2 DNFs, 29th in points
High Point: For Sorenson, his only top 10 of the 2009 season was the aforementioned ninth in the rain-shortened Daytona 500. That was part of a very interesting day for RPM, by far their best of the season. AJ Allmendinger finished a career-best third and Elliott Sadler wound up fifth after nearly pulling the upset of the year. Had the yellow come out for rain 30 seconds earlier, he could have ended up in victory lane for the first time since 2005.
Low Point: It’s actually quite difficult to pick out a bonafide low point of the season on the track, as most of Sorenson’s performances were mediocre at best. However, a four-race stretch which coincided with the start of the Chase left the team with both plenty of scrap metal and little motivation to finish strong.
To start off the postseason, Sorenson finished 36th, 37 laps down at Loudon after slamming into a multi-car crash on the backstretch. The next weekend at Dover, he finished 35th, 230 laps down after getting involved in Joey Logano‘s infamous flip (Sorenson hitting Logano is what lifted the No. 20 up and over). At Kansas, Sorenson finished one lap down in 26th, but wrecked relatively early in the race and had to fight just to finish there.
Finally, Sorenson suffered his first DNF of the season at Fontana (along with the rest of the RPM team) when he got caught up in the big crash near the end of the Pepsi 500.
Summary: The 2009 season was full of turmoil for Sorenson. At first, it looked like he landed on his feet, signing with a solid program in RPM after choosing to leave Chip Ganassi at the end of 2008. The year started with plenty of promise, with the aforementioned top 10 in the Daytona 500. However, a mediocre 21st the next week at Fontana combined with finishes out of the top 30 at Las Vegas and Atlanta dropped Sorenson out of the top 25 in points, and that is where he remained for most of the rest of the season.
In an attempt to make the overall outfit stronger, RPM swapped the crews for the Nos. 43 and 44 teams midsummer. This resulted in Sorenson’s former crew chief, Mike Shiplett, being reunited with Allmendinger. Last year, the duo nearly raced the No. 10 into the Top 35 in owner points, nearly closing a gap that once was over 300 towards the end of 2008. Meanwhile, Sammy Johns took over the crew chiefing duties on the No. 43 of Sorenson at Michigan in August.
This move did help out Allmendinger slightly, but it did not really change Sorenson’s season for the better. In addition, the turmoil inside the team surrounding the RPM-Yates merger (and Sorenson’s impending departure) definitely affected them down the stretch.
Between Texas and Phoenix in November, more changes were made behind the scenes at RPM. Allmendinger’s spotter, Keith Barnwell, was released from the team after Texas. To replace Barnwell, RPM switched spotter Tony Hirschmann (who had moved to the No. 43 team as a result of the crew switch) back to Allmendinger, leaving Sorenson without a spotter. Sammy Johns was then demoted to Sorenson’s spotter, while Kevin Buskirk, who had been working back in the shop since he was replaced as Elliott Sadler’s crew chief in August, took over on top of the No. 43 pit box for the final two races.
The aforementioned personnel changes resulted in a lot of distractions for the team, which made it very difficult to focus on the task at hand for Sorenson. As a result, he regressed a little bit this season despite improving his finish in the points by three positions from 2008.
Team Ranking: Fourth of the four RPM teams. Sorenson and the No. 43 team just couldn’t get anything going during the season.
Off-Track News: The biggest news that came out about Sorenson in 2009 was that RPM team officials, strapped for cash, approached their worst-performing driver in the early summer and gave him two options. One, he could take a buyout and leave the team (RPM would have then dissolved the No. 44 car and put Allmendinger in the No. 43). Two, Sorenson could continue behind the wheel of the No. 43 for the rest of the season for no salary. Sorenson, confused at the time, decided to stay in the No. 43 and not be paid.
In September, Sorenson talked about this with ESPN’s Marty Smith. In the interview, Sorenson said that “[RPM team executives] didn’t really have much justification for it. They just said, ‘This is the deal we have, but you’ve done nothing wrong. We feel bad.'” By choosing to race on without pay for the second half of 2009, Sorenson silenced critics who thought he didn’t have the dedication level necessary to stay in Cup.
2010 Outlook: As of this writing, things are completely up in the air for Sorenson as far as 2010 is concerned. He has already been released from RPM as a casualty of the RPM-Yates merger, although it was doubtful he’d have kept the seat in the No. 43 even if the deal didn’t go through.
At this point, the only chance Sorenson has to remain in the Sprint Cup Series full-time is to score the ride in the No. 09 Miccosukee Gaming Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing. However, Sorenson is fighting for that spot with Casey Mears, David Stremme and David Gilliland. In addition, it is unclear what level of Hendrick Motorsports support that team will receive in 2010 since Brad Keselowski is no longer associated with them.
As a last resort, the most likely place for Sorenson to end up is in the Nationwide Series, driving a limited schedule behind the wheel of the No. 32 Toyota for Braun Racing. However, nothing has been announced as of yet.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: C
2007 Grade: C
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: D+
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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