Petty team brings home the bacon
“The King” is assured of funding for his iconic No. 43 over the next three racing seasons.
Smithfield Foods and Richard Petty Motorsports announced Wednesday they have agreed to a three-year contract extension to continue sponsorship of the entry now driven by Aric Almirola through the 2016 season.
The sponsorship is for 29 of the 36 races each year and includes an increase that will allow RPM to begin a research and development department and increase its number of test sessions.
“The sales growth and the sales promotion activity has to succeed,” Smithfield CEO Larry Pope said. “That is fundamental, just like Aric running around the track. He’s got to succeed. And that part is going extremely well. Whether Aric shows up in victory lane or not, the sales activation we’ve been trying to do is working, and we’ve seen sales lifts that are certainly double digits and sometimes triple digits associated with a program when Aric is — and the geography is in an area that we run the promotion. So off-track the combination of what we’re doing with the retailers and the public appearances, Aric and Richard do a fantastic job off-track, so there’s no issues off the track at all. In fact, that’s the big success story.”
RPM also announced Almirola is signed through the 2016 season.
“This gives me the opportunity to be a lot more confident,” Almirola said during the conference call. “I’m not worried if I make one mistake or whatever that they’re going to be looking around, trying to figure out the next guy who can come in and do better. ... It’s feels great that in June or July I don’t have to worry about where my paycheck is going to come from next year.”
The sponsorship renewal comes in the wake of the company’s sale to Chinese investors.
“I would tell you that I’m in control of this decision,” Pope said. “We do have new ownership out of China. They are learning the branding world. They’re not a branding‑oriented company, so they’re learning from us. I have been reassured by my new boss, which is the chairman, that I have 100 percent authority over our U.S. operations. Obviously I’ve got to deliver a profit, but beyond that, the decision‑making is even better than it was before, and I am 100 percent committed to NASCAR as an organization. I believe it is the right way to communicate to our consumers.”
Pope said he has been interested in racing since attending the Daytona 500 before he was in elementary school. With the increase in funding, he wants better results on the track. Almirola has posted two top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes as driver of the No. 43 the past two seasons. He finished 20th in points in 2012 and 18th in 2013.
“Now, what I want Aric to be is the subject of conversation on track,” Pope said. “I want a lot of chatter, and the way you do that is to be up front and contending to be up front and being in the mix. I think they have been a bit hamstrung with maybe not quite enough resources to do all the fine tuning on the car. ... We sat down here toward the end of last year. We said, guys, we love what’s happening off the track, but we need to have a little bit better performance on track; what’s it going to take. And Richard and Brian said, ‘let us put a proposal in front of you. If you’ll help us fund this, give us the resources and the engineering, we’ve got the driver.’ I said, ‘what is that going to take to do that.’ They put the number in front of us, and Smithfield said, ‘we’ll write the check.’ Now, go do the engineering, hire the people you need to hire, so Aric can move up in the points. It’s no more complicated than that. He knows that. I’m very open with that. I’m probably more satisfied with Aric in 15th place than Aric is.”
HONOR FOR BLANEY
Part-time High Point resident Dave Blaney, who raced sprint cars before jumping to NASCAR, is one of eight people who will be inducted this year into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa.
Blaney won the championship of sprint car racing’s top circuit, the World of Outlaws, in 1995, and won sprint car racing’s top event, the Knoxville Nationals, in 1997.
Induction ceremonies are slated May 31. Blaney’s selection comes a year after this father, Lou, was inducted.
Two things that you won’t see in NASCAR this year will be single-car qualifying in the Nationwide Series and Truck series, and possibly the Cup Series, and two-car tandem drafting in the Nationwide and Truck Series races at Daytona and Talladega.
NASCAR officials said last week they haven’t decided on a qualifying format but should announce it later this month. One thing that won’t change is the qualifying format for the Daytona 500 that includes qualifying runs to determine the front row and a pair of qualifying races to set the rest of the lineup.
As for tandem drafting, NASCAR officials said it’s out because they will start penalizing drivers who use it.