Strong rumor continues in the camp of Richard Petty Motorsports concerning the now-vacated No. 43 Best Buy Ford. The only solid information as of the close of 2011 is that Best Buy will not be sponsoring the car and A.J. Allmendinger will not be driving it.
Bleacher Report Contributor Connor Kish recently reported that, via The Charlotte Observer, Nationwide Series driver Aric Almirola will be the next driver to sit behind the wheel of the ride made famous by Richard Petty.
Although nothing has been made official, the Observer has a fairly decent track record in breaking offseason news. It reported that Kurt Busch would be leaving Penske before any announcement was officially made.
Therefore, it can be strongly assumed that Almirola and RPM have indeed joined forces.
The question that must be posed is whether or not this was a choice RPM was forced to make or whether it truly wanted Almirola as its full-time driver?
There are certainly better resumes available, especially at the Sprint Cup level. Almirola, nicknamed the "Cuban Missile," has almost no top-level experience and less success there.
He has no wins and two top-10s over the course of the last four years. He did finish fourth overall in the Nationwide Series in 2011, yet had no wins.
It seems plausible that Richard Petty Motorsports may not be completely interested in putting a fully competitive driver in the seat of its vacant car. Rather, it may have more interest in signing the driver which it deems the most marketable and sponsor-friendly.
Unfortunately, this makes the most sense. It is difficult to imagine a different mindset would lead to this choice. Almirola must appear, in the eyes of RPM, to have the broadest appeal.
David Ragan and Brian Vickers are still available. Perhaps they were contacted and simply asked for too much money; that is difficult to imagine because both truly have few options at this juncture.
They are proven Sprint Cup winners, especially Vickers. Ragan is already a Ford driver. Almirola just seems an awkward choice.
RPM may run into a problem if its gamble on the "Cuban Missile" falters. If Almirola is only able to match his past performance in the Sprint Cup, more sponsors may defect in the future.
One more major defection that resembles Best Buy's discontinuation of sponsoring the No. 43 team could force RPM to become a single car operation in the ensuing years.