One of NASCAR’s dirty little secrets is that the competition in the board room is even tougher than a restart with two laps to go at Talladega Superspeedway. We got another example of that Tuesday.
The latest team to get blindsided by a competitor is Richard Petty Motorsports, which is losing longtime sponsor Smithfield Foods to Stewart-Haas Racing next year.
The move means driver Aric Almirola won’t be back after six full seasons with the team. It also imperils the short term for RPM, which must quickly figure out where to find new money.
Understand, SHR did nothing wrong. Sponsor dollars are the lifeblood of NASCAR teams and it’s not at all unusual for corporations to move from one driver or team to another. It happens all the time.
But in a strongly worded statement, Richard Petty said he was not pleased by the turn of events.
“We have had numerous discussions with Smithfield Foods regarding the extension of our relationship dating as far back as February,” Petty said in a statement released Tuesday. “Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us, and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship. I come from a time when we did major deals with sponsors like STP on a handshake. I’m sad to see this is where we are now. This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction.
“Losing a sponsor of this magnitude in September is a significant set-back to Richard Petty Motorsports, but Andy (Murstein, team co-owner) and I are committed to moving forward with the No. 43 team. We have a lot of great partners who have expressed their continued support, and our fans will rally around the No. 43. We’ve been around since 1949, and we’ll be around a lot longer.”
RPM, which scaled back from two teams to one this year, was looking for a new and smaller shop. Now it’s also looking for a new driver and new sponsors, not an enviable position to be in this late in the season.
For its part, Smithfield fired off its own scathing response Tuesday afternoon.
“We are extremely disappointed that Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) has chosen to disparage Smithfield – its lead sponsor – after five years and tens of millions of dollars of unwavering financial support, despite years of subpar performance on the track. RPM’s claims of a “handshake deal” to extend our sponsorship are unequivocally and patently false,” the company said in a statement attributable to Kenneth M. Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer, Smithfield Foods, Inc.
“Smithfield’s numerous discussions with RPM over the past several months focused exclusively around one issue: RPM’s inability to deliver on the track and the organization’s repeated failure to present a plan to address its lack of competitiveness. Smithfield is a performance driven company and we demand performance from the people we do business with. For that reason – and that reason alone – Smithfield decided not to renew its contract with RPM when it expires at the end of this year. It is very unfortunate and disheartening that RPM has chosen to disseminate false statements regarding our communications to NASCAR fans who we have supported wholeheartedly with more than a $100 million investment in the sport over the last several years.”