Richard Petty Felt "Stabbed In The Back" By Smithfield Leaving NASCAR Team
Richard Petty said that Smithfield Foods' decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports for Stewart-Haas Racing made him feel as though he was "stabbed in the back," according to Ed Hardin of the Greensboro NEWS & RECORD. Petty in a statement said, "Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us, and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship. I come from a time when we did major deals with sponsors like STP on a handshake." He added the team is "extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction." Petty vowed the team he co-owns with Medallion Financial Founder & President Andrew Murstein "will be back" in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in '18 (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 9/13). Smithfield yesterday "fired back" with its own statement, "denying the handshake deal, chastising Petty for what the company termed 'false statements,' and blistering RPM for its failure to perform at a high level on the track" (USA TODAY, 9/13). RPM crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said, "We had assumed Smithfield was coming back and had every indication they were coming back, so we were excited about our future. Both performance and sponsorship, they were looking great." He said the team plans to have Bubba Wallace replace Aric Almirola in the No. 43 car next year, though Smithfield's departure will make it a "little harder road than we initially expected." Blickensderfer noted the team is "going to have to find some sponsorship" for Wallace ("NASCAR Race Hub," FS1, 9/12).
TWITTER REAX: Racing reporter Jeff Gluck tweeted Smithfield's statement "came off poorly. ... They could have made their point without blasting back so heavily. Why do that? Unnecessary. Take the high road." Fox Sports' Alan Cavanna: "Damn ... coming at The King." Athlon Sports' Geoffrey Miller: "What a fun day to work Smithfield PR." Yahoo Sports' Nick Bromberg: "NASCAR fans siding with a corporate behemoth over the most legendary driver in the sport — and the underdog in this scenario — is baffling." MRN Radio's Alex Hayden: "One positive from today people are overlooking: @SmithfieldFoods is choosing to STAY in the sport."
LOOKING FOR MORE ROI: USA TODAY's Mike Hembree notes Almirola produced just one win while racing with Smithfield sponsorship, and it is "no surprise that the company would consider moving to a team with more promising prospects." Although "linking its brand to Petty, the sport’s No. 1 ambassador and a certified American sports icon, was a plus for Smithfield, it clearly wants to be in a position to have its name in brighter lights -- specifically those of victory lane" (USA TODAY, 9/13). It is unclear what SHR team Smithfield will be associated with. But Almirola also is moving to SHR next year, and NASCAR driver Regan Smith said, "We know how tight Aric has been with Smithfield, and his relationship’s been very close with all the people that make the decisions there” (“NASCAR Race Hub,” FS1, 9/12).