Tuesday, July 8, 2014

All The King's Men--The #43 After Richard Petty

A long wait for Aric Almirola...a LONGER wait for the #43
UPDATED 7/3/17

When a legend retires from the sport, he leaves some pretty big shoes to fill (or, in this driver's case, cowboy boots).  Nobody has lived up to the level of success Richard Petty had in his legendary #43 "Petty Blue" stock car--although honestly, it's doubtful that anybody COULD.  Here's a rundown of everybody who tried:
Rick Wilson and the re-numbered car

Rick Wilson--1993.  The journeyman driver (best-known previously for running Oldsmobiles for a number of years) actually drove the re-numbered #44 immediately after The King's retirement.  Nascar considered permanently retiring the #43, but reconsidered and the famed 43 returned to the track in 1994--minus Rick Wilson.

Wally Dallenbach, Jr.--1994.  Originally best-known as something of a road-racing ace, Wally moved to The King's ride for the 1994 season.  After a disappointing start, he was let go and replaced by John Andretti for the rest of the season.  Ironically, Wally would work with Richard's son, Kyle, on TNT broadcasts.

John Andretti (see below)

Bobby Hamilton (Sr.)--1995-97.  The hard-nosed Tennessean was better known as a journeyman before he hooked-up with Petty Enterprises.  By the time he was done, he'd posted the most-success of any post-Petty driver in the #43, winning twice.  Bobby left the team following the 1997 season to drive for Morgan-McClure.

John Andretti and The King in
Victory Lane at Martinsville
John Andretti--1994, 1998-2003.  After a brief stint in 1994, John Andretti rejoined Richard Petty for the 1998 season, posting a single win (in 1999).  The joining of the most-famous name in IndyCar with the most-famous name in Nascar would see a slow decline in production in the following years.  Despite a change in sponsor (STP to Cheerios) and manufacturer (Pontiac to Dodge) the team was unable to reverse the slide, and Andretti was released midway through the 2003 season.

Christian Fittipaldi--2003.  The most-bizarre entry on this list, the Brazilian ran a handful of races in the #43 in 2003.  After disappointing results, the nephew of Emerson Fittipaldi moved over to the Petty-owned #44 car.  (NOTE: Road racer Scott Maxwell attempted a single race in the #43--the 2003 race at Watkins Glen--but he did not qualify).

Jeff Green--2003-2005.  Journeyman Jeff Green stepped-in for Fittipaldi and was eventually signed to drive the car full-time.  Green's tenure with the team was unremarkable, and he was let go following the 2005 season.

Bobby Labonte--2006-2008.  Richard Petty made a trio of bold moves to take the #43 back to victory lane before the 2006 season--he sold part of the team to investment group Boston Ventures, he moved the team itself from its ancestral home in Level Cross, and hired former Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte as his driver.  While Petty Enterprises as a whole hadn't been competitive for some time, Labonte was encouraged by the new money and chance to bring the #43 back to glory.  After a promising start--with three top-5's in 2006--the team regressed in the following two years.  With sponsorship drying up, Petty essentially allowed Boston Ventures to shut down Petty Enterprises, while Richard took his name, a small ownership stake, and his legendary #43, to Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, renamed Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM)
One of Reed Sorenson's many sponsors
during his year in the 43

Reed Sorenson--2009.  With the #43 reborn with RPM, Reed Sorenson was the first driver to drive the famous number under new ownership.  After posting a single top-10, sponsorship issues saw Sorenson racing the car for no-pay near the end of the season.  Sorenson was let go soon after the season was over.

A.J. Allmendinger--2010-11.  The former open-wheel ace Allmendinger was put in the #43 in 2010.  Despite showing flashes of talent, Allmendinger was allowed to leave the team following 2011 as RPM appeared on the verge of shutting down due to majority owner George Gillett's financial issues.  Eventually a last-minute deal by Petty to sell the team to Medallion Financial kept RPM afloat.

Aric Almirola--2012-present.  Almirola--who briefly raced for RPM in the #9 car in 2010--returned to the team in 2012 on a full-time basis.  In this week's rain-shortened Daytona race, he finally brought the #43 back into victory lane.  Results have varied since then, as RPM itself has struggled with on-track performance of both its flagship #43 and teammate #9/#44 car, eventually shutting down the second team prior to the start of the 2017 season.

Substitutes--2017.  Aric Almirola suffered a back injury in a vicious wreck at Kansas, forcing RPM to put substitute drivers in the famed #43.  At first, "super-sub" Regan Smith ran two races, before Roush Fenway developmental driver Bubba Wallace Jr. stepped into the car for three of the next four races (and the foreseeable future until Almirola returns).  Road racer Billy Johnson piloted the 43 at Sonoma.