Tuesday was a busy day in the NASCAR world, especially for Richard Petty Motorsports. In the morning, Smithfield Foods announced it would be taking its sponsorship to Stewart-Haas Racing and leaving RPM after six seasons. In the afternoon, it was announced that Aric Almirola would not return to the team in 2018. And at night, RPM and Smithfield got into a Twitter war, accusing each other of various acts.
Will Richard Petty field a full-time Cup team for the 2018 season?
The End of the King’s Reign?
I want to see The King involved in the sport just as much as the next guy. But at some point you have to think to yourself, ‘when does the well run dry?’
Sure, Richard Petty is Richard Petty for a reason. And he’s nicknamed The King for a reason, too. Even my millennial self who saw him compete in approximately zero races knows that.
But the departure of Smithfield is telling not only for Petty and his race team, but the sport as a whole. The bottom line is this: you don’t have a sponsor, chances are that you won’t be on the track.
The No. 43 has been a fixture on tracks across the country for decades, and probably will be long after it’s done racing due to its rich history. But next season might be when that well dries out.
Richard Petty Motorsports’ performance in Smithfield’s tenure has been lackluster to put it lightly. And I think Petty himself would be amongst the first to tell you that himself. So why should one think the performance of the team is going to take a drastic uptick in less than a year?
Heck, that’s even if they’re operating next season. Right now, it ain’t looking likely.
They downsized in cars from two to one. They sold their race shop because it was too big for their organization of one team. They lost a sponsor that has been piling in millions upon millions of dollars into the sport and their race team. And now they’ve lost their driver.
Not to mention the rotating ownership at RPM, their departure from Roush Fenway Racing’s partnership and the fact that RPM has came out and said publicly that they have no plans to merge with another race team for next season. They’re on an island. A lonely island.
So, what’s next? I think the most viable option for the team is to take a year off from full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing and focus on getting better for the 2019 season.
If anybody in motorsports can attract a sponsor, it should be The King. He has as much swagger as Soulja Boy circa 2007.
For those that aren’t familiar with Soulja Boy’s work, just take my word for it when I say he “turned (his) swag on” all day, every day.
But in all seriousness, why should we believe that all of a sudden King Richard is going to pull yet another rabbit out of his hat and find a sponsor willing to lay down millions of dollars for a driver who, right now is to be determined, but most likely unproven and unknown?
Darrell Wallace Jr. is the name that keeps coming up in media conversations and rumor mills as the man that will possibly drive for RPM next season. He’s making his return to the XFINITY Series this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway with sponsorship from Nickelodeon, which is a great thing. But putting down sponsorship dollars for a one-race XFINITY deal compared to a 36-race Cup season are two completely different things.
My gut tells me we won’t see the No. 43 on track full time next season, which is a shame for so many reasons. Will they sell their charter? Will they run part-time? Will they move down to the XFINITY and/or Camping World Truck series?
These are questions I don’t know the answer to, and nor will I anytime soon. And the scary part is, I don’t think Richard Petty or anybody at RPM does right now, either.
I’m not a betting man, but if I was I’d put money on RPM not being around in the capacity they were in 2017. – Davey Segal
The King Will Find His Bacon Elsewhere
Obviously, the loss of Smithfield Foods as the primary sponsor of the No. 43 is a colossal blow to RPM, especially given that the company led the organization on for so long that the team is left with hardly any time to find a new sponsor for next season.
The team named after the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion could fold at the end of the season, but I do not believe that this will be the end of Richard Petty as a car owner.
Petty and his iconic No. 43 will be out there in 2018. It could be through some sort of merger with an existing team, a new co-owner could be added to the mix or things could remain intact at RPM, but we have not seen the last of The King.
When he retired as a driver, Petty famously said that he always envisioned that he would go out in a blaze of glory. He wrecked in his final start in 1992 and went out in a blaze of fire at Atlanta instead.
If things end this way, with a nasty falling out with Smithfield and no sponsorship for next year, Petty would essentially be going out in a blaze yet again, and I don’t think he would be content with that.
The King has unfinished business as a Cup owner; he has to get his car back to its former dominance and leave a team for his family to continue on. Losing Smithfield is huge, but Petty has been through harder times and came through just fine.
Petty won the 1964 Cup championship and was dealt a large setback the following season when NASCAR banned Chrysler’s Hemi engine. He responded by boycotting the sport, and NASCAR quickly re-authorized the Hemi for Petty to continue his dominance.
Petty’s former team, Petty Enterprises, faced closing again in the mid-1980s, when Richard and Kyle Petty both left to drive for other teams. The team ran a partial schedule in 1985 before The King returned to get it going again.
Petty Enterprises survived Petty’s retirement and handing of the reigns to the underperforming Rick Wilson, Wally Dallenbach Jr. and John Andretti. It came out on the other side with Bobby Hamilton winning races.
The team faced a horrible setback when its future, Petty’s grandson Adam Petty, died in a crash in 2000. That moment led to a downward trajectory that led to the eventual closing of Petty Enterprises after the 2008 season, but it was not the end of the No. 43.
Richard Petty came across a sucker, George Gillett Jr., who bought the team and made it into Richard Petty Motorsports. Gillett thought if he threw around enough money then he could win championships. He put the Petty name back into Victory Lane with Kasey Kahne, but bailed when he was not competing for titles and losing money on the deal. Once again, it appeared to be the end for Petty.
Gillett’s two-year tenure boosted the team enough so that it caught the eye of current co-owner Andrew Murstein, who revived the team yet again.
My point is that Petty is a smarter businessman than most people give him credit for. He has found the right people, sponsors and circumstances to prolong his career in NASCAR.
Take the Smithfield deal that RPM had for the past six seasons; how many other teams have had 30-plus race sponsors during that time frame?
Murstein is committed to the team and has tons of financial backing from his company Medallion Financial Corp. Petty and is No. 43 are so legendary that they will attract another sponsor.
I once heard ESPN’s Ryan McGee say that even in a room with Santa Claus, Richard Petty is still the coolest dude in the room. That is what will attract another sponsor and keep the team going.
RPM seems to be interested in fielding a car for Darrell Wallace Jr., who seems to have trouble attracting sponsors, but would perfectly represent any sponsor that the team signed. Wallace does have the interest of Nickelodeon and Coca-Cola, which would likely invest into Petty’s team if he was the driver.
If I were running RPM, I would release Aric Almirola immediately and put Wallace in the car for the last 10 races of this season to try to attract sponsors.
RPM was wronged and left for dead when Smithfield violated the sacred “handshake agreement” (I’ll believe The King’s word any day over a bunch of businessmen from a Communist country that actually took dog off the menu at its restaurants when it hosted the Olympics), but Richard Petty will survive and come back all the stronger in whatever ownership form he comes back in. – Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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