Now that you have picked yourself up after dying reading the headline, hear this crazy idea out. On Tuesday, Smithfield Foods announced it was picking up its sponsorship and departing Richard Petty Motorsports. Next season, the bacon-production company will be in the Stewart-Haas organization. Smithfield cited that they wanted a more competitive car on track with their sponsorship. They enjoyed their partnership the last few seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports, but something had to give.
Aric Almirola is a great driver victimized by lack of rides in competitive areas. We have seen he can be competitive on certain tracks, particularly the restrictor plate ones. He can be a threat to win every race at Daytona or Talladega. Let’s be real for a moment: so can everybody else. The Richard Petty Motorsports #43 has been stuck as a mid-range car for the last several seasons and it’s not Almirola’s fault. He is a great driver stuck in a middling ride.
So, what does the future hold for the 43 team? Honestly, it is rather bleak. When you are a team performing in the middle of the pack with a top class sponsor, it can be a game-changer. There is a non-zero chance the iconic #43 could be off the track for the first time in over 50 years. Short-term, would it hurt NASCAR? Quite a bit. Losing any iconic team would be devastating to a sport heavily-built on its history. Long-term? There will be other teams. NASCAR will move on. Junior Johnson is gone. Robert Yates is gone. It happens.
That said, there is a crazy option many people might not consider. In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series, there is a team who is on the rise. Maurice Gallagher, the man who owns Allegiant Airlines, has three truck teams and one Xfinity team. GMS broke through in 2016, winning their first championship in the Trucks with the long-time Wisconsin veteran, Johnny Sauter. Benefitted by having a major airline as your sponsor, the team survives.
There has been some talk about GMS jumping to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level for 2018 season. This expansion would be another Hendrick support team. Hendrick engines, Hendrick support. Fans have wanted that as a place for a new Kasey Kahne ride. On paper, that would make a lot of sense, compared to his son, Spencer, a regular top-25 performer in the Xfinity Series. However, the details came out that GMS will not go full-time racing on their own in 2018. That part is probably the smartest.
However, this writer has a crazy idea. GMS is clearly looking for a future part in the Cup Series. Richard Petty Motorsports is looking for a good sponsor for whoever drives the 43 next season. There have also been rumors of Petty moving to Chevrolet next year in an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. GMS is a Chevrolet organization. There is a distinct possibility, if RPM is willing to leave Ford, a future could exist in a merged GMS/RPM organization with Hendrick support. Not only would it keep the #43 on track with temporary sponsorship with Allegiant Airlines, the chances for a future are better.
Also, with drivers looking for a ride in 2018 in the lower series, having available rides in an RPM/GMS merger might give opportunity to someone like Austin Cindric, who lacks a ride for 2018 and Bubba Wallace a ride somewhere in NASCAR. Wallace can win, he just needs a proper ride. We saw that in MDM Motorsports #99 in the Trucks. A proper ride in the Xfinity Series would do him some good. So it may be a bit crazy, but there is potential here for a multi-team operation between Richard Petty Motorsports and GMS Racing.
Also do not start me on the racism aspect some fans are thinking….