So...I bet you didn't see that coming.
As if silly season couldn't get any sillier than last year's Jeff Gordon retirement rumors or those silly rumblings about Tony Stewart starting his own team, 2009 is proving anything really is possible in NASCAR.
Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing, two of NASCAR's famous families, will be joining forces for 2010, running Yates-powered Fords.
“This is a pretty big deal for us,” Richard Petty said. “We’re thrilled to partner with Ford. We’ve talked with a lot of folks, but in the end it came down to the success the Gilletts and I think we can achieve with Ford Racing. Right now this deal is real new. There are lots of details still left to be ironed out so we don’t have a lot of answers for anyone right now.
“We’ll be working on all that in the coming days, weeks and months, but we do intend to have everything in place before the start of next season. I’ve won races with Ford and plan to again.”
The merger kills rumors that Roush Fenway would be sending a fifth car, the No. 26 of Jamie McMurray, to Yates and run it as a satellite team.
“This is certainly a great opportunity for both Yates Racing as well as Ford Racing,” Yates Racing co-owner Max Jones said. “I have had a long-term relationship with Ford and look forward to continuing that relationship at Richard Petty Motorsports.
“Over the coming weeks we will continue to work with Ford and Richard Petty to lay out the best plan for Paul Menard and all of the employees at Yates Racing.”
Not only does the merger kill rumors that Jamie McMurray's No. 26 will move to Yates and be run as a Roush-Fenway "satellite team," it will also leave dozens of Petty Motorsports and Yates employees—along with one driver—out of work.
RPM drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Chase contender Kasey Kahne will be returning to the team's lineup in 2010. Also returning will be driver Elliott Sadler, who had a contract controversy earlier this season to retain his ride.
Paul Menard currently sits 32nd in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver points. In his three full years in Cup, Menard has yet to win, and has finished in the top ten just once in his career when he finished second in the October '08 Talladega race.
Reed Sorenson is just four spots ahead of Menard in points, holding his 28th points position for most of the season. His lone top ten this season came in the Daytona 500 when he finished ninth. Having just one more year in Cup under his belt, Sorenson has also yet to win, but has five career top fives and 13 other top tens.
With this gap in performance, why was Menard chosen as the fourth driver for the new Petty-Yates venture? In these rough economic times, it simply comes down to sponsorship.
Menard is guaranteed sponsorship from his father's company, Menards, which has sponsored him since he entered NASCAR's highest level full time in 2007. Despite having over a handful of sponsors appear on his No. 43 Dodge this season, Sorenson doesn't carry this same guarantee. In this rough economy, Menards' sponsorship appeal proved influential.
“There has been some conversation in the past few weeks, you know, discussing next year. I've kinda known for a few weeks now that I'm looking for a job next year. I think everything for the rest of this year is set as far as what our plans are,” Sorenson told NASCAR Today.
The next move for the 23-year-old Georgia native may be to return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. A slight possibility could be the No. 1 Chevrolet partially owned by his former owner, Chip Ganassi, or the No. 7 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, though driver Casey Mears is signed through 2011.
Thanks to Scene Daily, Yahoo! Sports, NASCAR.com and Racing Reference for the quotes used in this article.