“Losing a sponsor of this magnitude in September is a significant set-back to Richard Petty Motorsports, but Andy (Murstein) and I are committed to moving forward with the No. 43 team”, Petty said.
The announcement confirms an earlier report by Motorsport’s Lee Spencer that such a move was in the works after a handshake deal between the company and Richard Petty fell through, potentially over RPM’s desire to have Bubba Wallace drive the 43 in 2018. “This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction”.
“Further details of our agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing will be provided at a later date”.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41, is also still waiting for to hear what SHR and sponsor Monster Energy will do with his contract.
Both Harvick and Busch will represent SHR in the 10-race playoffs that begin Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. It is unclear whether Smithfield could sponsor Almirola – sponsorship contracts in NASCAR sometimes contain clauses that prohibit a sponsor to move with a driver – but SHR also has open inventory on the Clint Bowyer auto in addition to the cars now driven by Patrick and Busch. “Smithfield has activated heavily and successfully within the sport, and we’re honored to be a part of the brand’s forward initiatives and strategy”.
SHR could also take a different route outright: The team could pursue Almirola, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, or any other available driver to replace Patrick, Busch or both. The team has not appeared to get back in sync and is 25th in the team standings.
RPM’s future is unclear after the single-car organization had spoken confidently over the summer about Smithfield returning; the company, which sponsored the No. 43 Ford driven by Almirola, has been a primary sponsor since 2012.
Petty, the Hall of Fame driver and seven-time NASCAR champion, is no longer the primary owner of his race team. One of NASCAR’s venerable organizations, RPM has struggled to remain consistently competitive and a lack of funding prompted the team to downsize from two cars to one this season.
What that means is that Smithfield won’t be sponsoring a current SHR driver and will instead be supporting a newcomer to the team.