Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Ramble - Loudon II Edition

The Future Looks Bright for Richard Petty Motorsports
(Yes, I'm Serious)

Richard Petty Motorsports has been in the NASCAR news a lot the last couple of weeks with the announcement of the buyout of Yates Racing, and much of the articles have not put the team in the best light. Many journalists and fans alike are critical of the decisions that have been made, and about the revolving door of leadership at the company.

I can’t say that I don’t question some of the decisions that have been made, but I am also very aware that the public does not have all the information behind why those same decisions came about. Neither reporters nor fans know exactly what went down – what words were spoken, what the details of contracts were, or how much sponsorship issues played a part.

The biggest thing we don’t know, and which could change everyone’s perception of why the Gillett family is doing the things they are, is what their vision for the future of the team really is. No successful business model is put in place without a vision. There has to be some sort of plan for progress in order to grow and expand. Companies that remain stagnant when times change around them are often the ones that go under.

So what does the future hold for Richard Petty Motorsports? Well, we know that they will continue to be a four car team, and that they will field Fords in 2010. There is no doubt in my mind that the contribution from Ford will be better than what RPM was getting out of Dodge, so I see this as a plus.

Another big advantage is that they will now likely form an alliance with Roush Fenway Racing at Ford’s urging, to make the manufacturer a strong contender again. The Roush camp is struggling a bit this year, and has only managed to get two out of their five cars in the season playoffs. They are also winless since the first two races of the year. Chevy and Toyota are taking over Victory Lane, and I can not imagine either Ford or Roush will let that go on for too long.

So in 2010 Richard Petty Motorsports will have a strong manufacturer backing, and hopefully a reciprocating alliance with one of the powerhouse teams in NASCAR. What else are they gaining in the buyout? Two words – Yates horsepower. The Yates family are engine builders. Period. They started a NASCAR team so they had cars in which to put those engines. Racing is a means to let them explore their true passion – building engines. And they are damn good at it.

So RPM will have a strong manufacturer, a reciprocating alliance with Roush, and a lot of ponies under the hood. What else do they need? Oh yes, sponsorship. Well, Kasey Kahne has Budweiser. Elliott Sadler has Best Buy and Stanley Tools. Paul Menard has Menards, of course. And while AJ’s sponsors have not yet been announced, I would assume we will see a hodgepodge of the team’s remaining affiliates – Air Force, McDonald’s, PVA, Valvoline, and hopefully Hunt Brother’s Pizza.

Manufacturer – check. Team alliance – check. Horsepower – check. Sponsorship – check. What’s next – driver talent? Well, we know RPM has some capable wheel men. It’s just a matter of giving them the horses under the hood, which they will now have, and a chassis capable of gripping the track, which they are definitely improving right now. Combine that with some good luck and the drivers should be in contention for top 10 to top 20 finishes week in and week out, and I think a realistic goal of two or possibly three cars in the Chase.

On a side note, I do find it unfortunate that Reed Sorenson won’t be part of that group of talented drivers. With the merger of a four car team with a one car team, (Hall of Fame Racing is technically a separate entity,) there ended up being five drivers and, in accordance with NASCAR rules, only four seats that could be filled. With Paul Menard being a part of a sponsorship package, Reed ended up being the loser in a cruel game of musical chairs. It’s a shame, but it was a business decision prompted by dollar signs – nothing more, nothing less.

Now where was I? Ah yes – the future of Richard Petty Motorsports. Well, RPM seemingly has nearly everything in place to come out of the gate strong in 2010. So what are they lacking? Well, crew chief experience is one area that they are still working on, with the exception of Kenny Francis, who is outstanding in that role.

Hopefully an alliance with Roush Fenway will include information sharing for the crew chiefs and engineers of the two Ford teams. Initially it will probably benefit RPM more than Roush, but I think Jack Roush only has to look at the Hendrick / Stewart Haas conglomeration to see that it can be positive for both sides.

Truly, I think the only thing that Richard Petty Motorsports really needs for 2010 is a strong general manager. They have had a bit of upheaval in that area over the last couple of years, and it has certainly given the illusion of instability within the core of the company. When even the drivers for the team aren’t sure who to go to for answers, there is something missing.

However, with the buyout of Yates Racing comes an additional resource that could be huge for Richard Petty Motorsports – Max Jones. Jones is the co-owner of Yates Racing, and the current General Manager. He was also a long-time General Manager at Roush Fenway Racing. He knows the job. Pair him with current RPM Executive Vice President of Race Operations, Robbie Loomis, and you have the foundation for a solid management team.

So in summation, if you add up all the elements you need to have a competitive race organization – manufacturer support, a technical alliance, sponsorship, driver talent, and smart management – Richard Petty Motorsports is looking mighty pretty for 2010.

Of course as with any merger or buyout situation, there will be some growing pains and some questions that they still need to find answers to. But all in all, I think the future of RPM is looking very bright. (Maybe they should borrow Elliott’s Sadler’s cool shades.)

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