The cowboy hat sits a little unsteadily atop the head of stock car racing’s most famous figure these days.
Richard Petty is busy lining up his team for 2013 (and, hopefully, beyond), and he is moving in waters that remain choppy and with changeable tides.
When Roger Penske decided to detour from Dodge to Ford for 2013 and Dodge followed by exiting the NASCAR interstate entirely, the garage area underwent some seismic shifting. Deal-making was impacted on numerous levels.
For a while, it looked like Petty would be taking his iconic 43 number and the rest of his racing possessions back to Dodge (the team’s home for many years), but, when Dodge’s future in the sport dissolved, all bets were off.
Discussions about Richard Petty Motorsports’ future continue, but the landscape as it currently is painted appears to keep the RPM cars in the Ford camp for the next season, although the King has been talking with more than a few other possible partners.
“It looks like there is not going to be a lot of change there for next year, but there’s no concrete stuff yet,” Petty said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. “We’re figuring on staying in exactly the same place, with the same operation from a manufacturing standpoint. We don’t see a change unless somebody else comes up with something.”
Petty said his team’s role with Ford necessarily will change with the arrival of Penske Racing within the arms of the Blue Oval.
“When the Dodge deal didn’t go down – and that was an option,” Petty said, “we looked at the other options. When the Penske deal came down, that changed the whole landscape as far as we were concerned, and a lot of other people, too.
“Ford had to sit down and look at their budget and renegotiate with the people they had to renegotiate with, to make it work for them and us.”
The Petty standing within the Ford pecking order might change with Penske’s arrival, but Petty said that wouldn’t impact matters significantly.
“From the outside, you won’t see anything different,” he said. “It hasn’t come down, for sure; it’s still in the talking stages. There will be some changes, but it won’t be noticed from the outside.”
Petty said he expects drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola to return but admitted the die is not cast.
RPM made some significant changes this week, switching Ambrose’s crew chief, Todd Parrott, to the Almirola team and Almirola’s crew chief, Mike Ford, to Ambrose. The team’s pit crews moved with their crew chiefs.
“We changed pit crews and crew chiefs trying to get more established going into next year instead of waiting and making changes at the first of the year,” Petty said. “We get 10 races to kind of evaluate and see what’s going in the right direction.”
Ambrose has one win this year and is 15th in points. He had a shot at making the Chase until the final week of the regular season. Almirola is winless and is 22nd in the standings.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.