Bigger Is Better: Danica Patrick Part of Richard Petty Motorsports' Future?

Brian PolkingContributor IIMarch 11, 2011

Patrick has two top-15s in three Nationwide starts in 2011.
Patrick has two top-15s in three Nationwide starts in 2011.John Harrelson/Getty Images

After nearly closing shop at the end of the 2010 season, Richard Petty Motorsports is now planning to expand in 2012.

Led by a group of financial investors, Richard Petty seized control of the organization prior to the start of the 2011 season. Although RPM was forced to downsize from four to two cars, Petty promptly secured sponsorship for drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.

With sound financial footing, Petty and company have their eyes on some potential free agents.

The surprising name atop the list is Danica Patrick.

Petty's investors want to make a splash, and putting Patrick behind the wheel of a Cup car would do just that.

It's doubtful that any other organization will offer Patrick a full-time Cup ride in 2012, but that doesn't make a move to RPM a sure thing.

Patrick herself has said repeatedly that she is unsure about whether or not NASCAR is the direction she wants her career to take.

No matter how much money RPM throws her way, Patrick won't make the jump to the Cup Series unless she is confident and comfortable.

With a 14th-place finish in the season opener at Daytona and a career-best fourth-place run at Las Vegas, the odds of her making the jump have to be increasing.

Patrick would be completely overwhelmed at the Cup level, but that won’t stop sponsors from flocking to her.

Call her a circus act if you want, but dollars drive the sport.

The other driver rumored to be the main target of RPM is Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer has been one of the steadiest performers the last few years, and he would instantly become RPM's No. 1 driver if he were to sign with the organization. He is a proven race winner, and he is usually a lock to make the Chase.

However, no one is mistaking RPM for RCR.

At least in the present, Bowyer would be moving to a weaker organization. Unless Bowyer has a strong desire to be seen as the face of an organization, prying him away from RCR seems unlikely.

Of course, a bad year could lure him away as well, and RCR isn't exactly setting the world on fire through three races.

Whether or not the organization is able to land any big name free agents will become a bit clearer in the coming months.

In the meantime, Ambrose and Allmendinger are doing their part to build the organization’s reputation.

Allmendinger is sitting in the top 10 in points after the first three races of 2011, and Ambrose is coming off a top-five finish at Las Vegas.

RPM has gone from on the verge to being of NASCAR to trying to challenge the top organizations. That's a pretty impressive turnaround.