Before the 2014 season begins, let’s take a look back at some of the history of the biggest teams in the sport. First up is the oldest team in NASCAR, Richard Petty Motorsports.
RPM began operations as Petty Enterprises all the way back in the first season of NASCAR, 1949. Lee Petty entered 5 of the 8 races that season in his famed #42, but actually made his first ever start in #38 , the only time he would drive that number. Before retiring after the 1964 seasons, Lee Petty won 3 championships for his own team in the number 42. Before retiring he ran a few races in the 43 and and 41, setting the tone for Petty numbers. Other than one race in the #2, any other number driven by Lee Petty was for another owner.
During the early years, many drivers made starts here and there for the Petty team. NASCAR wasn’t as organized back then and drivers found themselves entering races in whatever ride was available, using pretty much any number. The first driver other than Lee to race for Petty Enterprises was Jimmie Lewallen in the #44. Other drivers to start for the team in the ’50’s and ’60’s included Ralph Earnhardt, Tiny Lund, Joe Weatherly, Speedy Thompson and many more. Many of the second entries drove #188, while the numbers 2,4,42A, 43, 44 were also used regularly. The King made his first start for the team in 1958 driving 42A and 2, Maurice Petty in 1960 in #44. The King started driving the#43 in 1959 and drove it until he retired.
Petty Enterprises began looking more like a modern day team in the 1970’s, with Richard being the primary driver. Buddy Baker (#11) drove for the team in 1971 and 1972, and Kyle Petty joined his family’s team in 1979, reviving #42. From 1979 to 1983 Richard and Kyle drove the two entries for Petty Enterprises. The team cut down to just Kyle after 1983 with Richard’s #43 team being taken over by owner Mike Curb. Petty drove one more year for PE before moving to the Wood Brothers.
No Petty drove for Petty Enterprises for the first time in 1985, also no number in the 40’s was entered. Dick Brooks and Morgan Shepherd drove a total of four races for the team in the #1 that year. Richard returned the #43 to Petty Enterprises the next season and drove it until his retirement in 1992.
Petty Without Petty
After Richard Petty retired, Petty Enterprises was left without any Petty’s to drive for them. From 1993 to 1998 the team searched for a driver to become the face of the team, with no luck. The first to try to fill the shoes of the King was Rick Wilson, driving the #44 in 1993. Wilson was unsuccessful and only lasted the one season. Unsure where to look next, Petty brought back the famed #43 in 1994 and signed Wally Dellenbach Jr. for 1994. After failing to make some races and not having much success a change was made halfway through the season, bringing in another famous surname; John Andretti.
Andretti Failed to impress in his half season and Bobby Hamilton was signed for 1995. Hamilton returned the 43 to victory lane in ’96 and 97, but left the team after posting a best points finish of 9th in 3 seasons.
With no one to drive their car, Petty returned to John Andretti in 1998. Andretti was much improved and finished the season 11th. He would continue to drive for the team through 2003, never matching his 1998 season.
Petty Enterprises 2
While Petty Enterprises was in search of a top driver, Kyle Petty was attempting to establish himself outside of his family’s team. After a couple seasons with the Wood Brothers he brought the #42 back while driving for Felix Sabates until 1996.
Following his stint with Sabates, Kyle attempted to start his own team, PE2. PE2 was a short lived endeavor, featuring just kyle Petty in the #44 for two seasons. Following the 1998 season Kyle’s team became part of the original Petty Enterprises. Kyle would continue driving for Petty Enterprises for the rest of his career through 2008.
Throughout the early to mid 2000’s Petty Enterprises struggled. Fielding Kyle, Jeff Green, Bobby Labonte and others, the team only breached the top 20 in points once.
There were rumors that following the 2008 season the team would cease to exist, however, they were able to make a deal and merge with Gillette Evernham Motorsports. This was due in part to Ray Evernham having not found the success he was looking for in ownership, as well as interest in keeping the Petty name in NASCAR. The deal saved Richard’s team and found a new moniker – Richard Petty Motorsports.
There was a less known transaction in this time involving Petty. At the same time of the deal with Evernham, Yates Racing also merged into the Petty brand.
Richard Petty Motorsports
With the merger, RPM became a four car team, Kahne and Sadler kept their numbers from Evernham Motorsports while newcomers A.J. Allmendinger and Reed Sorenson took the 44 and 43. Following the season Sorenson was replaced by Paul Menard, who had his number changed from 43 to 98, Allmending moved from the 44 to 43. The team remained the same for most of 2010, but Kahne left with 5 races remaining and was replaced by Almirola.
At the end of 2010 there were more troubles for the Petty team. Richard had signed closed sale on the team but the organization was saved again by an outside investor, curent co-owner Medallion Financial. The deal led to a total restructure of the team.
RPM is now entering it’s third season of being a two car team with Aric Almirola (#43) and Marcos Ambrose (#9). On track results have greatly improved from the two drivers and sponsorship deals have been extended and increased after each season.
#9 – Marcos Ambrose – Ambrose’s numbers were down last season compared to 2012, but expect him to make the Chase this season. YES, THE CHASE. Ambrose is spectacular on the road courses adn with the new Chase format, all he needs is a win at one to qualify. I fully expect this season to be the first Chase birth for RPM thanks to a victory by Ambrose.
#43 – Aric Almirola – Almirola held steady from his performance in 2012, with slight improvement. A couple more top tens and 18th in points. Almirola was up near the Chase cutoff for about half the season before falling off. I don’t expect to see Almirola in the Chase as he has yet to win a race in his career, but I do think he will improve and have a couple top 5’s.