Charlotte, NC – They are doing things different over at Richard Petty Motorsports. First, they’ve moved from a shop over near the Concord Airport to a shop in Mooresville. The shop in Concord was adjacent to Roush Fenway Racing and their souvenir shop. It only had 40,000 square feet of space. In Mooresville, they will have twice the space and they can do different things, like hanging their own chassis parts and really building cars like they want to.
It was a breakout year for RPM. Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Ford, won his first race in July at Daytona International Speedway and Marcos Ambrose decided to head back to Australia to drive at home after nearly winning a race and joining Almirola in the Chase. Ambrose was replaced by Sam Hornish Jr. who will drive the No. 9 Ford in 2015. Hornish has the endorsement of the owner.
“I think Sam brings a lot of versatility,” said team owner and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty. “Marcos (Ambrose) was super on road courses and stuff, but he never got the hang of being ready. He could have good races and bad races and good times in the races, but I think Sam will be much more consistent with it.
“In our testing, (Hornish and Almirola) both felt the same thing in the car. Whether they’d change the air pressure or they’d change the springs and both of them feel the same thing. With Marcos, he was one way and Aric was the other way and so it was hard to compare them. Now we’ve got two cars that we can sit down and say, ‘OK, you try this and I’ll try that and if it works, we’ll put it on the other car.’ That should be an advantage for all of us.”
It should be noted that Hornish has won the Indianapolis 500 and finished second in points in the Xfinity series in 2013. He has credentials, something Ambrose did not when it came to oval racing.
Despite an announcement on Wednesday that Hornish only has sold sponsorship for just 10 of the schedule’s 36 races thus far, Hornish will be running a full slate, starting with the season opening Daytona 500. With less than a month to go before the Great American Race, the lack of sponsorship is daunting but offers a view into what the Petty and Co. think of Hornish’s talent behind the wheel. Performance on the track comes first, sponsorship later.
For an organization and owner that have long been at the helm of motorsports innovation, albeit in the past, the investments that RPM is making to grow and build for the future is clear. Its current focus is on testing new ideas and implementing them into the cars, something that they haven’t necessarily been able to do in recent years.
With the tools and space that the new shop allows it to explore and take advantage of, combined with two drivers that are very much on the same page to start the season, something that Petty alluded to not being the case with Almirola and Ambrose, it should give RPM the flexibility to continue its growth from last season to expand its goals and increase performance in the coming years.
“Aric came to all three of the tests and we got the opportunity to jump back and forth out of the car to see what each of us liked as far as driving goes and I feel like that’s one of the main benefits right now,” said Hornish, who led the eighth-most XFINITY Series laps in 2014 despite running just eight of the schedule’s 33 races.
“It seems like we both want similar things out of the race car. When we get to the race track, hopefully we’ll be able to cover twice as much ground as far as finding what’s going to be a direction to head and make our cars better each weekend.”
Hornish’s last full-time Cup season was in 2010 in a Team Penske Dodge so there’s certainly going to be some adjusting to do in the early going, especially considering he hasn’t competed full-time at all since 2013. He knows there are going to be bumps in the road, but he’s willing to put in the work necessary to make his mark on this avenue of motorsports before the 35-year-old starts to think about wrapping up his racing career.
“Going back to the Cup Series full-time, it’s a lot different than when I did it last time. I feel like we’ve got a lot of things to look forward to,” Hornish said.
“I want to be a part of building something. I feel like the best thing that I can do in the situation that I’m in right now is to try to be a good leader and keep people excited about what’s going on and to move the program forward because I know that I’m not going to be racing forever. If I can get to the point where I leave it better than when I found it, I feel like that’s my main goal.”