Once the final checkered flag waves in the final race of the season, normally the off-track activity takes the lead. It’s not about lap times, nor the laps led. Instead it’s about the moves within an organization, or who elects to move on.
Richard Petty Motorsports once again finds itself on a search for a driver at it’s highest level. After reducing it’s operation from four cars down to only two at the end of 2010, the only car in the organization that has a secure future is the No. 43 Ford. Prior to last season, Aric Almirola and sponsor Smithfield Foods both signed extensions to ensure they will be with the team for at least three more seasons. When the 2014 season ended, Marcos Ambrose elected to head back to Australia to race V8 Supercars, while Sam Hornish Jr. signed on to take over the No. 9 Ford.
Now, after only one season, it seems Hornish is already heading out the door. Prior to last weekend’s race at Phoenix, team owner Richard Petty admitted that he did not expect Hornish to be back for the 2016 season.
After the race ended on Sunday at Homestead, it was officially the end of the road for Hornish in the No. 9. Hornish’s tenure with RPM ends with a lot of disappointment. The 2015 campaign for the No. 9 team ended with no wins, no top-fives, and only three top-10 finishes, plus two DNF’s. His final position in the standings: 26th.
Hornish signed on with RPM just prior to the 2015 season, but with no testing to start the season it would be an uphill battle to find some chemistry with the new team. Nothing seemed to develop and a majority of the year was a struggle, and both driver and team elected to part ways.
Now searching for a new driver prior to the new season, the No. 9 will see it’s fifth different driver since the 2010 season. That year, Kasey Kahne spent a majority of the time at the wheel, winning one of the two Budweiser Duels. However, his time was cut abruptly short following the Chase race at Charlotte that year when he began questioning leadership within the organization. He was subsequently terminated as the driver of the then-Budweiser Ford, and for the final half of the Chase it was Almirola behind the wheel.
Ambrose then took over the car beginning in 2011, scoring wins at Watkins Glen that season and the year after, his only two Sprint Cup victories. Hornish signed his one-year deal for 2015, and is now looking for a ride.
While RPM has not announced who will take over the car for next season, “The King” has said he plans on fielding two cars, depending solely on sponsorship. The No. 43 has enough sponsorship from Smithfield, the Air Force, STP and others to go through the next season, but he has not announced sponsorship plans for the team’s second car.
Time may be on their side as the teams will not come to Daytona again until early February to begin preparations for the Daytona 500 set for February 21.
The search is now on for the next replacement in what seems to be a revolving seat for a Sprint Cup ride.