Petty to lose sponsor
By Jenna Fryer
CHARLOTTE ó Richard Childress Racing will expand to four cars next season with General Mills as sponsor, a partnership that leaves Petty Enterprises searching for financial backing for its famed No. 43 for just the second time since 1972.
General Mills has sponsored the No. 43 the past nine seasons, taking over when STP gave up its role as primary sponsor of the car Richard Petty drove to 200 victories. Bobby Labonte currently pilots the flagship Dodge.
The car will need a sponsor for 2009, but Petty Enterprises thinks itís secure with its driver. Childress didnít say Tuesday who will drive his new No. 33 Chevrolet next season, but Labonteís deal with Petty is up at the end of this year.
As the 2000 Cup champion, Labonte would be extremely attractive to Childress because his status would automatically qualify the car for six races. But Robbie Loomis, executive vice president at Petty, doesnít think Labonte is leaving. The team has offered Labonte an extension that the driver is considering.
iI think Bobby is extremely happy here, and I think Petty Enterprises has done a good job of showing him weíre committed to building him fast cars and continuing the program around him,î Loomis said. iI just donít see Bobby leaving. I would normally say nothing surprises me in this business, but that would surprise me.î
Brian Moffitt, vice president of marketing at Petty, indicated the team will try to sell sponsorship of the No. 43 with Labonte as the driver.
iBobby is one of the most marketable and popular drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,î Moffitt said in a statement. iHe and his family share the ideals and values of the Petty organization, and he remains a key component to the long-term future of Petty Enterprises.î
The announcement comes at the same time Kyle Petty has decided to climb out of the driver seat of the No. 45 Dodge this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway to allow Chad McCumbee a chance to qualify the car. Petty failed to qualify at Martinsville and doesnít want to risk the car missing another race.
iEveryone at Petty Enterprises believes in Chad and his abilities,î Kyle Petty said. iTexas gives us a chance to get another good look at Chad without throwing him to the wolves. He should be relaxed because he knows he can get the job done there.î
McCumbee replaced Petty in the car twice last season while Petty took a summer hiatus to call races for TNT.
All this movement comes at a time when Petty Enterprises is exploring taking on a business partner to help the team compete with the superpowers in NASCAR. But Loomis said the race team, which relocated this year from its longtime home in Randelman to Mooresville to be closer to the Charlotte hub of NASCAR, is not unsettled.
iItís just like Richard (Petty) told me, they had STP forever and a lot of success, but then General Mills came along and took the team to the next level,î Loomis said. iWhile we never like to end a partnership that weíve had so long, weíre moving ahead as if our new partners will take us to the next level again.î
Medallion Financial Group is reportedly in talks to partner with Petty through its newly formed entertainment/sports acquisition group.
iThere has been speculation of our interest in Petty Enterprises for Sports Properties Acquisition Corp.,î president Andrew Murstein said in a statement. iWe are very interested in investing in NASCAR and the motorsports industry in general should the right deal come along.î
Meanwhile, Childress has finally succeeded in putting together the fourth team heís coveted. He tried to sign both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch last season, and both drivers were presumably earmarked for a fourth team.
But neither driver signed with RCR, and sponsorship concerns hampered his movement toward a fourth car for this season.
General Mills now gives him the backing to field a new Chevrolet ó and Childress passed on resurrecting his famed No. 3 that has not been driven since Dale Earnhardtís death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
The ability to expand coincides with all three of his drivers ranking inside the top 12 in the standings, with Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick sitting first and second in the Sprint Cup points. But Childress still must find a new primary sponsor for Burtonís car, as AT&T must leave the series at the end of this season because of a conflict with NASCARís series sponsor, Sprint.