By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Early this week it was announced that Kasey Kahne would be leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of 2010 to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. We still don’t really know where Kahne will be driving in 2011, whether it be Stewart-Haas or somewhere else, rest assured he will have a ride somewhere.
The real question is what does this do to Richard Petty Motorsports?
RPM is a conglomerate of merged teams from the past few seasons (Petty Enterprises, Gillette-Evernham, and Yates Racing). The team has merged in order to stay afloat in this rough economy, but with the loss of it’s biggest star how long can the team really exist? I know this is the question every time a big name driver leaves a team, but no other team in this situation has been in such financial dire straits.
Richard Petty Motorsports has reportedly defaulted on a loan in the amount of somewhere between $70 million to $90 million… that’s not good news even if you have Kasey Kahne on your roster, but if he leaves you would think it would lead to the end of your organization. Think about it, Kahne also has a huge sponsorship deal with Budweiser. It is unknown right now if Budweiser will follow Kahne, stay with the team, or search for another opportunity just yet, but what are RPM’s real chances of holding on to the sponsor?
Their current roster of drivers include: Paul Menard (Who is impressing this year), Elliott Sadler, and A.J. Allmendinger.
Now Allmendinger is extremely talented, but I would most certainly be a public relations nightmare if they partnered him up with Budweiser. Allmendinger was caught with a DWI last year, so a beer sponsorship you have to think wouldn’t be the best idea.
Sadler has been in a funk for the past half decade. He has struggled to stay up front through an entire race, and don’t forget the team tried replacing him with A.J. Allmendinger an offseason ago, which led to the expansion to a four car team. So the chances that a marque sponsor like Budweiser would ride on a driver who’s future is uncertain is unlikely at best.
Paul Menard as we know is driving for his father’s company Menards. It’d be interesting to see if Budweiser would like to take a chance on Menard, but as we know it’d be a gamble for the company. Through Menard’s career he hasn’t exactly had incredible results on the track. His great start to this season does make him an intriguing candidate to become the next beer man.
Maybe the team could snag a free agent driver in the offseason to take over the No. 9 car next season that would be a great fit with Budweiser , but their chances of landing a driver the caliber of a Kevin Harvick are slim to none… but who really knows once silly season gets in full swing.
In the end though this is all a moot point if Kahne does in fact bring Budweiser with him. If that does in fact happen I just don’t know how this team will survive, and it is a shame. They were just starting to really get things clicking this year. They were looking great with Doug Yates horsepower under the hood. Paul Menard is right in chase contention, Allmendinger just got his first career pole, and Kahne has been near the front all year long (just unfortunate circumstances keep taking him out of races). However the loss of a “big money” sponsor such as Budweiser may prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Only time will tell for sure if Richard Petty Motorsports can hang in there… I mean remember everyone said Dale Earnhardt Inc. was done when Dale Earnhardt Jr. left in 2008, yet they are still kicking, it’s just something to think about.