Season review/preview: Richard Petty Motorsports

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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2010 season review

The 2010 RPM season was written as much off the track as on.

The organization dealt with myriad financial issues and ownership problems seemingly from the start of the season as controversial co-owner George Gillett struggled to keep the team afloat.

Since he acquired majority ownership status of the team in 2007, Gillett, who at one time owned the Montreal Canadians and Liverpool Football Club of the Premier League soccer world, had seen his foray into the stock car world riddled with financial strife that finally came to a head late last season.

Team review/preview series
DateTeamDateTeam
Dec. 8JTG Daugherty Dec. 22Stewart-Haas
Dec. 10Red Bull Dec. 23Roush Fenway
Dec. 13Petty Dec. 27Childress
Dec. 15Waltrip Dec. 29Gibbs
Dec. 17Earnhardt-Ganassi Dec. 31Hendrick
Dec. 20Penske   

Facing a mounting debt and lack of revenue to climb back to prosperity, the RPM contingent found itself in a nearly weekly guessing game of whether the organization would be on track. Unable to pay for the chassis and engine inventory and services received through RPM's partnership with Roush Fenway Racing, the team was on the verge of closing its doors for good several times as the season wound down.

RPM did make it through the entire 36-race schedule without missing an event and less than a month ago, Petty was able to bring in a new group of investors that ousted Gillett and set RPM on a more secure financial path heading into 2011.

Somehow with the controversy and turmoil swirling around the organization, the team's performance on the racetrack was not only impressive, but also improved in the tail end of the season.

A.J. Allmendinger was the most notable of the RPM surge and put together a string of runs during the final 10 races of the season that was nearly remarkable given the circumstances inside the team. He looked on his way to a first-career Sprint Cup win at Dover in September, dominating the race until a tire issue thwarted his chance at Victory Lane but turned in several other solid efforts including a Top 5 in the Homestead season finale that has the former open-wheel star thinking positive about his future.

"This team could have easily fallen apart and fought and just dismantled itself, but I feel like we became stronger, and when we figure this stuff out back at the shop we will get this race team back where it needs to be," said Allmendinger, who signed a contract extension with the team in August.

Paul Menard was one of the season's most pleasant surprises and, like Allemdinger, was a ray of hope in the tumultuous RPM season. Menard and veteran crew chief Slugger Labbe teamed up to turn the fortunes of the fourth Petty entry around in 2010 and ended up 23rd in the standings with six Top 10 finishes to their credit.

Menard and Labbe will take their chemistry to Richard Childress Racing next season and look to continue the improvement they demonstrated in 2010.

2010 season stats
AJ Allmendinger
Wins: 0 (36 starts)
Top 5s: 2
Top 10s: 8
Poles: 1
Kasey Kahne
Wins: 0 (31 starts)
Top 5s: 7
Top 10s: 9
Poles: 2
Paul Menard
Wins: 0 (36 starts)
Top 5s: 1
Top 10s: 6
Poles: 0

Kasey Kahne began the year as the teammate of both Allmendinger and Menard in the RPM No. 9 entry, but didn't finish the year in the ride. After signing to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, Kahne suffered through a long drought of mechanical problems and bad luck that eventually came to a frustrating end at the October Charlotte race.

After Kahne was involved in a crash, he stormed out of the track and the team was forced to put relief driver J.J. Yeley into the damaged car to finish the event. Two days later Kahne was released.

Aric Almirola was tabbed to finish out the year in the No. 9 and proved a worthy fill-in with good finishes down the stretch that included a top five in Homestead.

What turned out to be Elliott Sadler's final year at RPM was anything but memorable as the veteran driver endured a year filled with disappointment, frustration and crashes. Sadler was involved in one of the most frightening wrecks in recent history when he slammed a cement barrier lining the infield at Pocono Raceway and destroyed his car in an impact that saw the motor fly out of the engine compartment.

"It knocked the breath out of me pretty good," Sadler said. "It's definitely the hardest hit I've ever had in a race car."

Sadler was uninjured in the accident that unfortunately summed up his season and will move on to drive for Kevin Harvick's Nationwide Series team in 2011.

Season preview

As part of its restructuring, RPM will streamline from a four to a two-car effort in 2011 with Petty more involved in the day-to-day operation of the team.

"The King" will serve as Chairman of the new Richard Petty Motorsports and believes his increased level of involvement will be beneficial to the growth and performance on his race team.

"I'm going to be more involved than I was able to in the past and I think we've got things in place to get things done," Petty said. "What we did on the track this year with all that was going on shows me we have what it takes to win again."

RPM's relationship with Roush Fenway remains intact, and with Ford's resurgence in the second half of the year the opportunity for more success seems strong in 2011.

Allmendinger will lead the effort to return RPM to Victory Lane as he wheels the iconic No. 43 Ford. Allmendinger's confidence will be high at the start of the new season after his strong finish to 2010.

Newcomer Marcos Ambrose moves over from the JTG Daugherty camp to take over driving duties of the No. 9 Fusion. The popular Australian believes he's ready to become a legitimate contender for wins and a Chase berth next season.

"It's going to eliminate any question marks I've got about stuff around me and people around me," Ambrose said of the move to what he believes is a solid situation at RPM. "Hopefully we will jell together well. As a racecar driver and professional, all you can ask is to put yourself in these opportunities. If I can't get in Victory Lane and can't do what I believe I can, there will be no question marks left. It's very, very simple."

Outlook

A secure financial outlook will lift a major burden off the entire RPM operation and allow the team to focus on its track performance, which should be improved in its re-organization.

The two-car effort will allow more resources to be focused on Allmendinger and Ambrose, and with the potent Ford engine and chassis support continuing from Roush, RPM has a chance to contend for victories and perhaps a spot in the Chase.

The mechanical gremlins that plagued both Kahne and Allmendinger in 2010 need to be eliminated. Established road racer Ambrose must improve his intermediate and overall oval track performance to be considered a regular threat for at least Top 10 finishes.

Look for Allmendinger to be the season's first new Sprint Cup Series race winner and an overall upgrade in execution for the entire RPM team.

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