It is going to be a busy few weeks for executives at Richard Petty Motorsports.
On Saturday afternoon, the organization announced that the No. 9 Ford Fusion is vacant for the 2015 season. Driving for the team since 2011, Marcos Ambrose is opting to leave RPM to take his family back to his home in Australia. In lieu of this decision, the team now has the task of finding a new driver. But that might not be the team’s greatest challenge.
While Ambrose is departing a team that he has won a pair of races with, his sponsor is doing the same. Black and Decker is reportedly joining forces with Joe Gibbs Racing, according to Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer. Just weeks ago, JGR announced that ARRIS will be sponsoring Carl Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 17 events. It is apparent that Stanley will sponsor Edwards, but Dewalt will sponsor Matt Kenseth after they backed him from his days in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Robbie Reiser in 1999 until 2009.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the possible candidates that could be Aric Almirola’s teammate at the team that bars Richard Petty’s name on its logo.
- Sam Hornish Jr.: It appears that Hornish is the top choice for the organization. Although he is racing on a part-time basis for a Toyota team in the Nationwide Series, he had plenty of success with Team Penske and Ford in 2013. With Ford having a clear presence in this decision, they will want someone that has a good relationship with them. However, Hornish has not run a full season in the Cup Series since 2010. Now, he is clearly a better driver. It is obvious that he is going to entertain this offer – if he gets it. But he will need to find at least some sponsorship, and that has been an immense struggle for a former Indianapolis 500 winner when it truly shouldn’t be.
- David Ragan: Ragan has driven for Ford throughout his career. Besides that, he even owns a Ford dealership. He lost his ride at Roush Fenway Racing because UPS opted to sponsor Carl Edwards instead of him and he couldn’t find another company willing to back him, even after showing that he can get into Victory Lane. Since then, it has been nearly three years of immense struggles for Ragan as he is racing for Front Row Motorsports. FRM has a minor alliance with Roush, but it isn’t enough to help him contend for top 20s on a weekly basis. Moving over to RPM would give him a chance to go back to consistently racing inside of the top 15. He has been able to bring plenty of new companies into the sport with his underfunded team. The past three years have been tough, but a job with RPM could have him back in the spotlight and contending for a spot in the Chase with Almirola.
- Parker Kligerman: Kligerman was left without a ride when Swan Racing shut down a few months ago. Even though he recently tested an Indy Lights car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, he would certainly jump at what would arguably be the best opportunity of his racing career. Clearly a talented driver, RPM could help develop him like they did with Almirola. Given the opportunity, Kligerman could race inside of the top 20 in his first year with the team. Albeit he hasn’t been able to find much funding over the course of his career, he has run well when given opportunities in top equipment. If the team can’t sign Ragan or Hornish, he would certainly be a perfect fit for them.
- Elliott Sadler: It appears that Sadler won’t be staying at JGR in the Nationwide Series next year. He has said over and over again that he wants to be back in the Cup Series. Last year, he had a minor stint with Michael Waltrip Racing; improving each race he ran for them. If One Main Financial would back him, there is a possibility that he could rejoin the team he once raced for. He has had some success in the Nationwide Series with three different teams, yet the money from the sponsor could help him get back to the Cup Series.
- David Gilliland: Like Ragan, Gilliland has been racing on one-year deals for FRM. When I spoke with him at Dover at the end of May, he stated that he is working on a contract extension. However, he would also be a good fit at RPM. He has also helped bring in new sponsors into the sport, such as Love’s Travel Stops, and there is the slight chance that they would move over to RPM with him if they are willing to spend more money. He has never proven that he can win races in NASCAR’s highest division, but in a sport where money means everything – Gilliland could join this team in a highly unlikely scenario.
- Ryan Truex: RPM signed Truex to a developmental deal last year. It is clear that racing with BK Racing is not the best of situations for him. However, Petty told me that they are still working to make a package for him – at least in the Nationwide Series. Getting all of this bad luck out of the way this year might not be the worst of ideas. If he can get some sponsorship, we might see RPM put him in the No. 9 car.
- Michael McDowell: Throughout his career, McDowell never really had a great shot at being competitive. However, he continuously proves that he is capable of running well when given the equipment to do so. If K-LOVE were to make the move with him, McDowell would finally have a chance at being a top 20 driver. Like Gilliland, it all depends on whether or not the team can put a package together for the other drivers. However, with someone as genuine as McDowell, there might not be a better guy off of the track to add to a team with a genuine owner.
- Brian Scott: Scott is backed by his family’s company, Shore Lodge. He has been racing well with Richard Childress Racing, and has made a few starts in the Cup Series. If RCR can’t find room for him since Ty Dillon should be moving to the Cup Series in 2016, he might have to find another organization to call home. Switching manufacturers should not be a factor for him since he raced for Toyota for a few years before he joined RCR. Moreover, he might want to stay with the team and fight for a title. But the funding should be there if he wants to make the jump and race for 20th-25th in Cup.