Will Richard Petty Motorsports Ever Return to Prominence?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2014

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 20:  Team owner Richard Petty watches qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 20, 2013 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Ford loyalists are still wondering what happened to Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski in 2013.

While the first three made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, they were virtual non-entities in the 10-race playoffs. And the latter didn't even have a chance to defend his championship, failing to make the Chase entirely one season later.

But what about the other key team in the Ford stable, Richard Petty Motorsports?

Oh yeah, right, another mediocre season—as has been the case now for the last three decades.

You read that right, THREE DECADES!

Thirty years is a long time, and while RPM is to be credited for patiently soldiering on each subsequent season, extended success—let alone being in championship contention—has continued to elude the legendary organization for far too long.

RPM has made the Chase just once, with Kasey Kahne in 2009. As it was, Kahne wound up finishing far out of contention that year, ending up in a distant 10th place.

Why can't RPM win a boatload of races and championships? Certainly, it has the lineage, that of team owner Richard Petty's 200 career wins and seven Cup championships.

And who wouldn't love to see The King and his merry men have success? It would be one of the greatest comebacks and feel-good stories in NASCAR history.

Unfortunately, it hasn't happened. And who knows when—or even if—it ever will again. After all, 30 years of mediocre to little success doesn't exactly bode well for a major turnaround as the organization kicks off the next 30 years in 2014.

Part of the reason is what RPM and its predecessor until 2008, Petty Enterprises, has lacked over the years.

Despite Petty's name and reputation, it's been difficult for the organization to attract sponsorships and enough funding to give it competitive resources that can go head-to-head with not only other Ford teams like Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing, but also compete against its counterparts from Toyota and Chevrolet.

It's also lacked, for the most part, top-flight personnel. Up until the middle of this past decade, the Petty stable had been based in Level Cross, N.C., dating back to Richard Petty's own racing days. Being 70 miles away made it difficult to attract top-rated talent from the Charlotte area.

Petty Enterprises, the predecessor to RPM, finally pulled up stakes and moved to Moorseville, N.C.—significantly closer to Charlotte by probably 40 to 50 miles—in 2006 to hopefully attract personnel and team members that lived in the surrounding areas of Mooresville, Huntersville, Concord, Kannapolis and other similar communities.

Unfortunately, even that hasn't worked much—with the exception of Kahne's 2009 campaign.

Over the seasons, Petty has tried horsepower and chassis from Ford, then Pontiac, then Dodge and then back to Ford in 2010. Nothing has worked or produced the results everyone at RPM has hoped for, most notably The King himself.

Ditto with driver selection. Once Petty retired after the 1992 season, the organization went through a succession of drivers over the following 21 seasons, starting with Rick Wilson in 1993, and then John Andretti, Wally Dallenbach, the late Bobby Hamilton, son Kyle Petty, Buckshot Jones, Steve Grissom, Jerry Nadeau, Jeff Green, Bobby Labonte, Christian Fittipaldi, Terry Labonte, A.J. Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson, Aric Almirola, Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose.

Richard Petty Motorsports' last win was 2012 at Watkins Glen with Marcos Ambrose behind the wheel.
Richard Petty Motorsports' last win was 2012 at Watkins Glen with Marcos Ambrose behind the wheel.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

There were also several drivers that ran one or, at most, a handful of races in that two-decade stretch including Steve Grissom, Ted Musgrave, Greg Biffle, Chad McCumbee, Kenny Wallace and Boris Said.

I still remember when Labonte left Joe Gibbs Racing and signed with Petty in 2006. There was an air of expectation that Labonte, along with former Jeff Gordon championship-winning (2001) crew chief Robbie Loomis, who became vice president of racing operations at Petty Enterprises in 2006, would finally get the organization back to a level of respectability.

Unfortunately, such has not been the case.

Richard Petty's last three Cup wins came in 1983. Since then, and combined as first Petty Enterprises and then Richard Petty Motorsports, the legendary organization from Level Cross, N.C., has recorded just seven wins in those three decades.

Two wins came from Hamilton, one from Andretti, two from Kahne and two from Ambrose.

What's more, consider the lengthy stretches between wins:

* After Petty's final three wins in 1983, the organization did not win again until 1996, a period of more than 12 years.

* And after Andretti won in 1999, a Petty driver did not win again until Kahne's two wins in 2009, almost 10 years.

* And after Ambrose's second career Cup win in 2012, neither he nor Almirola reached Victory Lane this past season.

Unfortunately, it appears the Petty organization is in store for another season of same old, same old in 2014. The driver lineup remains the same with Almirola and Ambrose. The personnel lineup on pit road and back at the shop is also relatively unchanged.

Richard Petty Motorsports

Without question, what RPM needs is superstars both behind the wheel and atop the pit box. If it had a driver like Jimmie Johnson or crew chief like Chad Knaus on the team, it would be like the 1970s and early 1980s all over again, with expected success each and every season.

Unfortunately again, when physical and financial resources are limited—and that's not a knock but a reality—there's not much that can be done. If a major sponsor came to The King with a $25 million check in hand, wanting to campaign a top-notch team, yes, RPM likely would show significant improvement almost immediately.

But every other team is looking for a sugar daddy sponsor like that and typically has more to offer in terms of drivers, recent success and the like.

Where do you think such a well-heeled sponsor like that would potentially wind up at?

Not at RPM, that's for sure.

We'd love nothing more than to see The King and his organization enjoy success again, to be competitive race-to-race as well as being bonafide championship contenders.

Will it ever happen? We can only hope.

After all, Roger Penske waited 30 years before he earned the first NASCAR Cup championship of his career as a team owner. Chip Ganassi is entering his 15th season still waiting for his first, and Richard Childress is waiting for his first since 1994.

Just like in Major League Baseball every April, hope springs eternal in NASCAR every time the season-opening Daytona 500 kicks off a new year of Cup racing in February.

RPM has waited far too long for those hopes and dreams to finally become reality. If Penske and Keselowski could combine for an unlikely championship in 2012, who knows, maybe 2014 may finally be The King's year.

It's certainly been a long enough wait, wouldn't you agree?

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

Start the New Year off right and catch me on "The Morning Drive" this Wednesday (7 to 11 a.m. ET) and "The BackStretch" this Sunday (Noon to 3 p.m. ET) on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Channel 90.


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