Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Smithfield Leaves RPM for Greener Pastures at Stewart-Haas in 2018

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Smithfield Foods, which has sponsored Richard Petty Motorsports and Aric Almirola since 2012, will be leaving the famed No. 43 car at the end of the 2017 season and heading over to Stewart-Haas Racing as a primary sponsor next season.

The announcement made Tuesday was short on details, but noted that more information, including the driver who will be added to the Stewart-Haas Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stable will be announced at a later date.

Currently, Stewart-Haas fields cars for Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Danica Patrick. Harvick and Bowyer are locked in with SHR for the foreseeable future, while the team didn’t pick up the option on Busch’s contract for next season and Patrick’s place with the team is contingent on whether she has sponsorship or not.

“We’re very proud to have Smithfield Foods join the Stewart-Haas Racing family,” said Brett Frood, president, SHR. “Smithfield has activated heavily and successfully within the sport, and we’re honored to be a part of the brand’s forward initiatives and strategy. Although we’re not ready to announce the full details of the program, we look forward to this new endeavor while remaining focused on the upcoming playoffs and putting forth the best effort possible to win more races and contend for another championship.”

With Smithfield moving over to Stewart-Haas in 2018, RPM is now in a perilous position as they are now without their primary sponsor heading into next season.

In their five seasons together, Almirola has driven the Smithfield colors to one win (2014 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona), nine top-five finishes, 27 top-10 finishes, and one pole. Currently, Almirola sits 30th in points after missing seven races due to injury.

“The decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports and join Stewart-Haas Racing was difficult but we feel this move will improve our competitiveness on the track and strengthen our position as a leading consumer packaged goods company,” Smithfield noted in the announcement.

In a press release later Tuesday afternoon, RPM announced that Almirola would not return to the No. 43 car in 2018 and Richard Petty also had some pointed comments about the handshake deal between himself and Smithfield that fell apart.

“We have had numerous discussions with Smithfield Foods regarding the extension of our relationship, dating as far back as February,” Petty 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. I’m sad to see this is where we are now.

“This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction,” he added. “Losing a sponsor of this magnitude in September is a significant set-back to Richard Petty Motorsports, but Andy (Murstein) and I are committed to moving forward with the No. 43 team. We have a lot of great partners who have expressed their continued support, and our fans will rally around the No. 43. We’ve been around since 1949, and we’ll be around a lot longer.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.