Aric Almirola expects to remain in No. 43 rest of year

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JOLIET, Illinois — Aric Almirola is the driver for now.

Darrell Wallace Jr. is the driver for next year.

Well, maybe.

Richard Petty Motorsports’ world turned upside down this week when sponsor Smithfield Foods announced it was moving to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season.

RPM announced that Almirola would not return to the team after this season.

Signs point to Almirola moving to Stewart-Haas Racing after Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth both said this week that they’re not replacing Danica Patrick in the car. No official announcement has been made. Almirola declined to discuss his 2018 plans Friday.

With a vacant seat to fill, RPM is pitching Wallace to potential sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. Wallace drove four races for the team this summer when Almirola was out after being injured in May at Kansas Speedway. Wallace’s best finish was 11th with the team in July at Kentucky.

“They are working hard to figure out something,’’ Wallace said Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. “What we did a couple months ago was pretty special and showcased what we can do as a pair … if we can get things worked out. I think we can bring them really good finishes, represent their brands the way they need to be and get them rolling off on the right start.”

Could Wallace, who is competing in Saturday’s Xfinity race, get into the No. 43 car before the season ends?

“I fully expect to finish the year in the 43 car,’’ Almirola said Friday. “I have a contract that says I will, so hopefully.”

RPM also has two charters. It leased one to Go Fas Racing and will get that after this season. It can either sell that charter or lease the No. 43 charter next season. Either way, the team plans to be a one-car operation again next season. The organization also is looking for a new home after not renewing for lease on its shop for after this year.

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