Richard Petty Motorsports announced Friday that it will field one car next season in NASCAR’s premier series with hopes of returning to a two-car stable in 2018.
The Richard Petty-owned operation plans to focus its efforts on its flagship No. 43 Ford driven by Aric Almirola next year. Brian Moffitt, the organization’s CEO, indicated in a statement Friday that the team plans to lease one of its two charters it has in NASCAR’s top division.
“At the conclusion of the 2016 season, we evaluated how to best improve our on-track product. We feel that it’s in the best interest of our partners and for Richard Petty Motorsports to focus our resources on the No. 43 Ford Fusion and Aric in 2017. A concentrated effort on one team will position us for improvement while giving us adequate time to re-establish our two-car team in 2018. For the interim, we will lease one of our two charters.”
The realignment temporarily shutters the No. 44 Ford team most recently driven by Brian Scott, who retired from full-time competition at season’s end.
Almirola has been with the Petty organization since 2012. He scored his first premier series victory in July 2014 at Daytona International Speedway, landing the No. 43 team its first win since 1999 and punching the ticket for RPM’s only appearance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
The Mooresville, North Carolina-based team began producing its own chassis before last season, then endured a significant performance dropoff in 2016. Almirola tumbled from 17th to 26th in the series’ final standings, and Scott managed only a 31st-place result overall in his only season with the team. Almirola and Scott posted just one top-10 finish each in the 36-race campaign.
Friday’s announcement follows two competition changes for RPM in the second half of last season. On Aug. 31, the organization replaced Sammy Johns, its director of operations, with Philippe Lopez and Scott McDougall to oversee competition duties. The organization also made a crew chief change for the No. 43 team on Sept. 13, replacing Trent Owens with Drew Blickensderfer for the final 10 races of the season.