Although many people within the NASCAR world long have suspected Smithfield Foods was interested in leaving Richard Petty Motorsports after 2017, Richard Petty wasn’t one of them.
Petty has revealed he was completely caught off guard by Smithfield’s decision to part ways with RPM, according to NASCAR.com. “The King” claimed the two had been in talks to extend their partnership, and even had made a handshake deal to do so.
Smithfield announced Tuesday it will join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, forcing Danica Patrick to vacate her seat in the No. 10 car.
“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.”
Aric Almirola is sponsored by Smithfield, and therefore is believed to be Patrick’s replacement at Stewart-Haas. Although SHR hasn’t yet confirmed that, Petty and his team’s sponsor, STP, confirmed Tuesday that Almirola won’t pilot the No. 43 again next year.
The loss of Smithfield, especially this late in the year, as Petty noted, is a big blow to RPM, which reportedly has been struggling financially.
Petty, however, says he and the team are committed to finding new sponsors for the No. 43. If it’s successful, RPM likely will name Darrell Wallace Jr. as the driver.
Thumbnail photo via Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports Images