("The King" was all smiles at the end of the season but Richard Petty Motorsports' future is fuzzy for 2012)
The very real possibility of the organization being forced to close its doors ended the 2010 campaign as the ill-fated deal with co-owner George Gillett blew up in a financial mess.
But Petty was able to put together a group of investors including Medallion Financial Group and DGB Investments to keep the team afloat.
There were tough decisions to be made and RPM was forced to cut back from a four-car operation to running just a pair of teams in 2011.
“I’m 73 years old – I’m not ready to start a new life,” Petty said when he took over full control of the team that bears his name at the beginning of the season. “So I will hang on to what we’ve got going. … I live on what I’m doing now from the standpoint that this is what I love to do; this is what I want to do.
“I want to be involved. The more I can be involved, the better I feel. I’ve been doing this since I was 11 years old. This is a lifestyle. And I didn’t want to change my lifestyle, so basically I did everything I could to keep that going.”
Ambrose came over from JTG Daugherty Racing to pilot the No. 9 Ford and rewarded Petty’s decision to add the popular Australian to his stable with a win at Watkins Glen in August.
It was also vindication for Ambrose who gave away a chance to win the previous year at Infineon Raceway when he shut off his engine to save fuel while leading and could not come back up to speed costing him the victory.
“I’ve felt a lot of weight of expectation and pressure to win and sometimes that clouds judgment,” Ambrose said after passing Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski on a green-white-checkered restart. “I know I’ve tripped myself once or twice trying to get to victory lane here in the Cup series.
“It’s not that I was worried, but the word ‘choke’ was starting to creep into the back of my mind.”
The road racing ace added solid runs at several oval track races throughout the season to end up nineteenth in the point standings and score five top five and twelve top ten finishes.
Allmendinger knocked on the door of his first career Sprint Cup Series victory several times and came close to joining his teammate Ambrose in victory lane.
He wasn’t able to accomplish that goal but was still impressive in his own right finishing fifteenth in the standings and chalking up ten top tens along the way.
“I feel like at a lot of race tracks we’re pretty solid. I just want to be consistent,” Allmendinger said in review of his year. “Our biggest problem is that the race tracks we’ve been bad at we’ve been really bad at. I just think we need to get more consistent overall.
“If we can go into the offseason and figure out where we need to work on – the flatter race tracks, the mile-and-a-halves, Kentucky, Chicago, Kansas, California – if we can get better at those tracks, I think we can be a legitimate top ten team and then from there it’s just about slowly getting better after that.”
However things changed dramatically from that view only weeks into the offseason.
RPM’s plans for the 2012 season are very much up in the air.
Best Buy took its sponsorship to Roush Fenway Racing and in the aftermath Allmendinger was released to take the ride at Penske Pacing’s Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.
While Ambrose is under contract to return in a Stanley Tools fully sponsored No. 9 entry, RPM needs to find a replacement sponsor in order to field the iconic No. 43.
“Our plan remains to run a two-car team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012, and we are continuing down that path,” chief executive officer Brian Moffitt said. “We believe there are several very talented drivers who are still available and would embrace the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the legendary No. 43 Ford Fusion. We continue to move forward and are optimistic about the future of this race team.”
The team is reportedly in talks to sign David Ragan, who was squeezed out of Roush when UPS scaled its sponsorship back and lost out on the Penske ride. However unless RPM can bring in corporate backing, it’s unclear whether the organization can field a second car out of its own pocket.
Twelve months later Richard Petty Motorsports is right back in the middle of uncertainty. After coming from the brink of extinction last year at this time, the team now faces the daunting task of finding millions of dollars in sponsorship just weeks away from the start of a new season. While RPM remaining in the Ford camp to continue its alliance with Roush assures the team will again have competitive equipment, it’s difficult to gauge the 2012 performance until more questions about the organization’s future are answered.
|More NASCAR coverage|