Petty name survives merger
By Mike Harris
CONCORD ó Amid all the economic turmoil in NASCAR, fans can take comfort knowing Richard Petty is still around.
Petty, stock car’s king and at 71 still the most recognizable face in racing, will have a presence under a rebranding of the new team created by the merger of his organization with Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
The new team will be called Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM), capitalizing on the seven-time champion’s marketability. The announcement was made Monday during the first day of the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Petty and GEM principal owner George Gillett agreed to merge their teams this month in a partnership that keeps the sponsor-strapped Pettys in racing. Reed Sorenson will drive Petty’s famed No. 43 Dodge for RPM this season. Petty’s No. 44 Dodge will be run by A.J. Allmendinger in at least the first five races of the season as the team attempts to find more sponsorship.
Those two join GEM holdovers Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler, who both have full-time rides.
Petty noted that the team’s new red, white and blue logo is similar to one used for decades by Petty Enterprises. But he said that was no surprise because he knew that George Gillett had not changed the historic logo of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens after he bought that team in 2000.
“They had a footprint in hockey, and we’ve got a little bit of a footprint in racing. … We’ve been in this stuff for 60 years now,” Petty said.
Ray Evernham and Kyle Petty are unlikely to have significant roles ó if any ó in the newly formed RPM.
The elder Petty said Evernham, who sold controlling interest of Evernham Motorsports to the Gillett family in August 2007 and has acted since as a consultant, will continue in that capacity. Kyle Petty, who has been cutting back on his driving, will continue to do part-time work on TV and some sports car racing.
“He’s been working his way out of the Cup situation,” Richard Petty said. “As we go along in our process, from time to time we might want him to run a race or two.”
The elder Petty said his role in the new team won’t be much different than what it has been.
“I’m going to basically be doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the last eight or 10 years ó nothing, as much as I can,” Petty said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “I’ll just (be) doing the Richard Petty thing.”
RIGGS GETS RIDE: Scott Riggs will drive a Sprint Cup car for the new Tommy Baldwin Racing team
The 38-year-old Riggs, who drove last year with Haas CNC Racing, will be racing in his sixth Cup season. He has four top-five finishes, and three poles in 167 Cup starts since 2004.
STEWART RIDE: Even with all the work of getting his own Stewart Haas Racing team running, Tony Stewart is branching out.
He will try to qualify a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the Nationwide Series race in February at Daytona.
Stewart has won the season-opening race in the second-tier series three times.
“We’re going to try and get another one, this time for Rick (Hendrick),” Stewart said. “Rick and I have been friends for years, so it would mean a lot to me to get a win for him.”
PENSKE-VERIZON: Details are still being worked out on what Verizon can do as a sponsor of David Stremme’s car at Penske Racing.
The wireless communications company earlier this month completed its purchase of Alltel, the longtime primary sponsor of the No. 12 Dodge. But Verizon can’t display any logos or market itself under the 2004 agreement that made Nextel (now Sprint) the top sponsor of NASCAR’s Cup Series.
To meet many restrictions, the car will be branded as the Penske Racing Dodge Charger.
POINTS SWITCH: Bobby Labonte will race the Budweiser Shootout thanks to a points switch with David Gilliland that awards Labonte a wild-card spot in the Feb. 7 exhibition race.
Labonte signed last week to drive the No. 96 for Hall of Fame Racing, which partnered with Yates Racing.
Under a rule change announced last week, a wild-card entry from each of the four manufacturers will be permitted into the Shootout.
Labonte is claiming that spot for Ford in the points grab from Gilliland, who drove for Yates Racing last season. And new Yates driver Paul Menard will receive the points earned by Travis Kvapil last season.
All the swapping means Labonte and Menard are assured a starting spot in the first five races. Kvapil must qualify for each on speed.