By Tori Petry – The No. 43 car’s journey back to Victory Lane has been anything but easy for Richard Petty Motorsports, but on a historic weekend in Daytona the iconic car was a winner once again.
@aric_almirola drove the famed car number to its first win in 15 years in Sunday’s unusual crash-marred, rain-shortened Coke Zero 400. The victory came on the 30th anniversary of team owner Richard Petty’s 200th career win in the same race, and was the first for the car since John Andretti’s Martinsville win in 1999.
In the team’s lifetime between then and now, the path was often tumultuous. From merging with Gillett Evernham Motorsports in 2009 to nearly going out of business the next year, they’ve seen their share of financial struggles and personnel disagreements.
“If you look back at the history and Petty Enterprises, all the turmoil we’ve been through in the last seven, eight years and all that stuff, I never give up on the thing,” Petty said after the race. “I said, ‘Okay, if I keep working at it long enough, we’re going to be able to overcome all this.’”
Overcome they did, but not without another dose of adversity before the start of this season. No. 43 crew chief Todd Parrot was suspended in October of last year for violating NASCAR’s drug policy and subsequently let go from the organization. In Parrot’s absence, RPM turned to a familiar face: Petty’s nephew, Trent Owens.
Owens was the crew chief for the No. 32 of Nationwide Series rookie @KyleLarsonRacin last year and grew up working for his uncle’s racing ventures during summers in high school. Still, the move to work for the family business again wasn’t a simple choice.
“(We) worked really hard to get Trent Owens to come over to this race team over the winter, and I told him that I thought Aric Almirola could win races,” RPM Director of Operations Sammy Johns said.
Owens knows firsthand the hardships the sport can bring. His father, Randy, was a pit crew member on Richard Petty’s team in 1975, and when an air tank exploded in the Talladega pits, Randy was killed on impact. Trent was just four months old.
If there’s any team who can identify with his adversity though, it’s RPM. Owens said coming back under the Petty roof to work on the No. 43 was the right decision.
“Being a family member, it’s a number that I grew up with, I grew up watching,” Owens said. “It feels like home to come back.”
Though this season held its own lows for the family as Petty’s wife and Owen’s aunt Lynda passed away in March of this year, the long-awaited victory arrival on the anniversary of The King’s momentous 200th win was the stuff of storybooks.
“It hasn’t sunk in, but it’s just cool to be working at this level as a crew chief,” Owens said. “There’s not a lot of people that get to say that, and to be on the 43 car, to be in victory lane here in Daytona in July, it’s really special.
“This win will be hard to top, probably ever, to be honest with you.”
Even so, Uncle Petty sees no slowing down ahead for RPM.
“30 years ago is history and today is the future,” he said Sunday. “I think it’s just going to make it that much easier to go from here – everybody has got to have a start, and I think this will get us started pretty good.”
With the win likely meaning they have the Chase ahead, the season is far from over for RPM. If they’ve already made it this far, there’s no telling where this team’s grit will take the No. 43 next.
Tori Petry is a Popular Speed Guest Columnist