CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Bob Leverone/Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
Day two of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom kicked off bright and early on Wednesday with a press conference featuring the ‘King’ and his brigade, with Richard Petty Motorsports taking center stage at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center.
Team drivers for 2016, Aric Almirola and new rookie Brian Scott, joined vice president of operations Sammy Johns and team CEO Brian Moffitt — who admitted that at the start of last year, RPM was “behind the 8-ball” and looking for a spark.
They have seemingly found that spark entering 2016, with all the team’s major sponsors (Smithfield Foods, the U.S. Air Force, Twisted Tea and Gobowling.com) renewing their contracts and three companies — Albertsons, Shore Lodge and Goody’s — either joining or returning to RPM for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Now, the goal? Simply put: consistency.
“Some of the goals that [we as a team] set going into last year included being more consistent as an organization,” Moffitt explained. “After making the Chase and winning a race in 2014, but not having the overall framework to maintain that momentum over long stretches, that was something we really wanted to work on for the new year.”
Moffitt also added that the team will take on much more of their own load in terms of car technology beginning with this year.
“We did meet a lot of the goals we set for ourselves, but there’s still a lot more work that we feel we need to do to get to the level we want to be at. One of the moves we’ve made to move closer to that benchmark is that we’re taking on building our own chassis in 2016. We want to return to the Petty ways of winning races and being a championship contender year-in and year-out, and we feel this move will be a big step towards achieving just that.”
Almirola had high hopes entering the 2015 campaign after making his first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup the year prior, but fell just short of achieving the feat for a second-consecutive time. The 31-year-old and eight-year Sprint Cup veteran posted one more top five finish (three total) than he did in 2014, but missed the Chase cutoff by a scant 17 points.
He did, however, finish as the “best of the rest” — 17th in the final Cup points standings — and said that while the record books might not have portrayed it, that he felt 2015 was s stronger season for he and his team overall.
“Consistency was what we missed in 2014, even though we did win a race and get ourselves in the Chase,” Almirola said. “This past year really was a good season for us. We knew our Achilles heel [before] was that we’d run really good one weekend and be way off the next. We couldn’t put our finger on why and that was really frustrating for us.”
“Sammy said that our goal was consistency going into last year and we realized how quickly that goal was attainable at the start of the year. In my personal opinion 2015 was a better year for us because we were at least able to establish more of a solid platform and get closer to a place that I thought we needed to be, and I was really happy about that. Was I disappointed we missed the Chase? Absolutely. As a driver, you always want to be contending for a championship and at the top level you can be. But I do feel like we made a lot of strides and we can take a lot of positives away from that.”
While he added that “you’ve probably already heard this word a lot,” Almirola smiled that he, too, is “excited” about his chances during the upcoming Sprint Cup campaign.
“I’ve never been more excited about starting a year — with the personnel we’ve added, the changes we’re making in the aero department and having Chris [Heroy] come on board and work with Trent [Owens, Almirola’s crew chief], I think it’s going to be a good year. Everyone says how excited they are about the start of a year, but I really mean what I say when I think we’re poised for some good things going forward.”
“We’ve got a lot of momentum, not just on the shop side, but also on the sponsor side with our partners. Since 2012, every partner we’ve had have stuck with us or grown their relationship with our team. I’m really proud of that. That’s the kind of things we need to keep doing to bring RPM back into the forefront and be a winning race team for the long haul.”
Speaking of wins, Almirola did make one other point in regards to his time with the team to date compared to his boss.
“Everyone’s got to keep in mind,” he laughed, “I’ve got one [win] already; I’ve just got 199 [more] to go.”
For Scott, who will embark on a run at Sunoco Rookie of the Year Honors with RPM in the return of the famed No. 44 to the race track, he emphasized the word “family” in his portion of the press conference — enthusiastic at having a chance to make his full-time mark in the Cup Series after seven years in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and 10 Cup starts in 2015 for team owner Joe Falk in an alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
“Petty is so much about family legacy and what they’ve done in the sport,” Scott said. “It’s very cool for me to bring a number [in the No. 44] back to the Cup level and to the team, and be able continue the legacy of that number with the team.”
“It’s also very special for me to carry the legacy of companies, like Albertsons and Shore Lodge, that value family legacy as much as RPM does into this team and help them to grow into valued partners with this team.”
Scott circled recent track time with his new organization as a key to his readiness to kick off the season strong, in addition to his re-energized outlook, before unveiling the mount that he will pilot for the year.
“I got to do a test with the team down at Homestead and that has upped my enthusiasm even more– even represented RPM in a go-kart shootout, so the offseason’s been a lot of fun. The atmosphere and morale is through the roof; and I’m excited to work with Aric — there’s so many drivers that have said good things about how he is to work with as a teammate that I can’t wait to get started.”
“They’re all lying,” Almirola shot back with a grin.
But what the entire Petty organization isn’t lying about is that they do indeed have a chance to up the ante in 2016 with two drivers hungry to prove they belong.
And it’s almost time to get that journey started in Daytona.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: [email protected]
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews