Richard Petty said Smithfield reneged on a handshake deal to return to his team for the 2018 season.
Smithfield announced Tuesday that it was heading to Stewart-Haas Racing to sponsor a driver and car to be determined with the team. Petty said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that he had reached an informal agreement with the company to continue as a sponsor of Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 car for a seventh season.
“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. “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 setback to Richard Petty Motorsports, but [co-owner Andy Murstein] 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.”
In a statement later Tuesday, Smithfield disputed Petty’s comments quite harshly.
“We are extremely disappointed that Richard Petty Motorsports 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,” Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in a statement. “RPM’s claims of a ‘handshake deal’ to extend our sponsorship are unequivocally and patently false. 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 competiveness [sic]. 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.”
In addition to looking for a new sponsor, the team is also looking for a new driver. In its statement acknowledging Smithfield’s departure, RPM said Aric Almirola won’t return to the team in 2018.
Almirola has driven the No. 43 car since 2012, when Smithfield came aboard. With Smithfield’s departure to SHR, it’s only logical to wonder if Stewart-Haas will be a landing spot for Almirola. Danica Patrick said Tuesday that she won’t be returning to the team next season and referenced the arrival of Smithfield as a reason why.
Almirola missed six races earlier this season because of a back injury he suffered in a gnarly wreck at Kansas. Coincidentally, Patrick was also involved in that wreck. In his five-plus seasons with the team he has 26 top-10 finishes. One of those was a win in the rain-shortened July race at Daytona. That victory got Almirola into the NASCAR playoffs for the first and only time in his career.
Drew Blickensderfer said on Fox Sports 1 Tuesday afternoon that the team wants to have Darrell Wallace drive the No. 43 next season. Wallace subbed for Almirola this summer.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) September 12, 2017
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