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Inside Richard Petty Motorsports: Searching for sponsorship

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long is spending this week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at how a team prepares for a race. He will be with the team at the shop and at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Watch for his stories each day through Sunday.

Part 1: Putting together a game plan for Bristol

WELCOME, N.C. — A stillness hangs in the heavy air. Sounds echo, whether from crickets or distant traffic. Morning dew clings to the grass and the sky is dark as many of the shop employees at Richard Petty Motorsports leave home.

When the team moved on Jan. 2 from its Mooresville, N.C., location to the Richard Childress Racing campus farther north, it meant that many employees had about an hour’s drive to the shop.

Alarm clocks are set earlier to be in the building by 6:30 a.m. for those who work only in the shop and 7 a.m. for those who work on the road crew.

Among the first in the building is shop foreman Brian Dantinne, who wakes up at 4 a.m. and makes the 45-minute drive — among the shorter one-way commutes — to be there by 6 a.m.

Mechanic Jerad Hewitt, whose uncle once was a crew chief at Petty Enterprises, is used to 5 a.m. alarms. He would get up then, have plenty of time to read the paper before making his five-minute drive to Joe Gibbs Racing. After joining Richard Petty Motorsports last month, Hewitt gets up at the same time but has less free time before making the hour-long drive to the shop.

It’s a daunting schedule for those who are not early risers and seems even more challenging when a team’s results include few top-10 finishes. With limited funding — the team does not have a primary sponsor in seven of the 13 remaining Cup races — this single-car team and its employees face challenges each week to be competitive.

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer talks to Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman while Joey Forgette works on the Bristol primary car. (Photo: Dustin Long)

So how do those who work at RPM get out of bed, make a long drive to work and face seemingly long odds at success many weeks?

“I look at it as we’re against the mega-teams,” Dantinne said, taking a break from ordering parts while crew members work on the Bristol car nearby. “I look at it as a challenge every day I get up to go to work. Hopefully contribute and get better. Trust me, I want to run good. We see our faults, we know what our faults are, so hopefully we can make them better. We’re all driven. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”

Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app) presents an opportunity for a better result since there’s less reliance on aerodynamics at the half-mile track. The team is hopeful it can repeat its April performance there when Bubba Wallace drove to the front and led six laps. With the team hosting potential sponsors this weekend, another strong run could impact the team’s future.

“Every weekend is important, there’s no question about it,” Brian Moffitt, the team’s chief executive officer says. “But this one in particular with where we know Bubba has run good and we have run good … we are extremely confident that when we give Bubba the right equipment, he can drive it and take it to the front. It’s exciting going into Bristol knowing that.”

Wallace’s car will have Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage listed as the primary sponsor at Bristol — companies operated by the team’s co-owners Andrew Murstein (Medallion Bank) and Richard Petty (Petty’s Garage). Those logos are put on the car when there isn’t another company that has bought sponsorship.

Bristol marks the fifth race in the last six where Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage were on the car. Philippe Lopez, the team’s director of competition, admits he has to be a strict gatekeeper on how much money the team can spend based on its sponsorship.

“I have to say no a lot,” Lopez said. “It sucks because I put myself in (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer’s) shoes a lot. When I have to say no, I just don’t say no like your parents did. I explain to him this is where we’re at and this is what we can do this month and here’s what I’m thinking, the money we have we need to spend to go fast. Most of the time Drew and I agree. There are some things we need to spend money on, there are some things that would be nice, but it’s not keeping us from that next position.”

That can mean the team might not have the latest versions of some parts or need to run a chassis more races than a bigger team that is constantly building cars that go faster.

With a storied name such as Petty and a dynamic driver as the rookie Wallace, it’s easy to wonder why the team hasn’t been able to find sponsorship for every race this season.

“Reality is we were so late in what took place in ’17, budgets were petty well set in ’18,” Moffitt, the team’s CEO, says in his office, which is decorated with the trophy from the July 2014 Daytona win, the team’s most recent victory.

“We knew this year was going to be like it is. We were hoping we would close more business in-season like everybody does. We really think that ’19 and the discussions that we do have are very positive around Bubba.”

The crew works on the front of the Bristol primary car Wednesday afternoon while decals are being placed on it. (Photo: Dustin Long)

RPM didn’t sign Wallace until late October last year. That was past when many companies had set their budgets. It’s no coincidence that the team announced a two-year extension of Wallace’s contract in late July. That gives RPM additional time to talk to potential sponsors and for those companies to budget money to sponsor the team.

While talks continue, a cost-cutting method the team does — when it doesn’t have a sponsor other than Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage — is wrap the car in sponsor logos a day before the car is loaded in the hauler to go to the next race. That gives the sales team extra time for any last-minute deals.

It also creates scenes such as Wednesday afternoon at the shop when the crew is working on and underneath the front of the car, while decals are being placed on the back of the car.

Hewitt, who came to RPM from Joe Gibbs Racing admits it is a different atmosphere with a smaller team, but it’s one he appreciates.

“A team like this, a smaller team, everybody is much more focused on the one goal, the focus is on the car,” Hewitt said. “You have to wear a lot more hats because you’re trying to get a lot more done. That’s a little bit of an adjustment where at Gibbs if you saw a certain something that wasn’t in your area you would go find that person. (Here) you just do it.”

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Truck results, point standings after Miami

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Brett Moffitt beat Grant Enfinger to the checkers by two seconds to take his sixth race of the season.

Playoff contender Noah Gragson finished third.

Stewart Friesen was fourth with Sheldon Creed rounding out the top five.

Click here for complete results.

Moffitt’s victory earned him the championship. This is the first time since 1999 that the champion won the final race of the season.

With his third-place finish, Gragson finished second in the standings.

Justin Haley finished eighth in the race and third in the standings.

Johnny Sauter finished 12th in the race and fourth in the standings.

Grant Enfinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for the complete points report.

Brett Moffitt wins Truck race at Miami, takes championship

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Brett Moffitt beat Grant Enfinger by two seconds Friday night to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and the championship.

It was his sixth victory of the season.

Moffitt’s first win of the season came at Atlanta in the season’s second race but even then he was unsure if the team would have the financing to go to every race and be eligible for the playoffs.

“It’s unreal,” Moffitt said on FoxSports 1 from victory lane. “I didn’t know if I was going to get the opportunity to compete for a championship even after I got my first win.

“Everyone pulled together hard here. Back at Chicago (in June) we didn’t know if we were going to make it to the racetrack.”

Chicago was another race won by Moffitt.

Friday night, Enfinger finished second to Moffitt.

Fellow playoff contender Noah Gragson finished third. Stewart Friesen finished fourth with Sheldon Creed rounding out the top five.

MORE: Brett Moffitt seeks to join pantheon of NASCAR ‘stache champions

Moffitt achieved the title in just 36 starts – the fewest since Mike Skinner won the inaugural championship in 1995 in 20 races.

Moffitt’s championship comes with an uncertain future. He announced Thursday that he does not have a contract for next year.

Playoff contender Justin Haley finished eighth.

“We just struggled.” he said. “I don’t know why.”

Former champion Johnny Sauter battled handling problems for most of the race and was not a factor.

“It was awful,” he said. “Just no grip. We laid an egg tonight. I don’t know why.

“When you suck that bad, it’s whatever, you just go home and go what the hell happened? I’ll ask myself that for three months.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

MORE: Click here for complete results.
MORE: Click here for the complete points report.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Jesse Little tied his career best finish of sixth (which he first scored at Iowa this June). … Tyler Dippel finished 15th to score his fourth top 15 in five Truck starts.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Robby Lyons slapped the wall on Lap 78; he finished 29th. … Chris Windom started 10th but hit the wall with a handful of laps remaining to finish 24th. 

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “We were just too tight there (at the end). Needed to make better adjustments on pit road and that’s where it comes down to me,” Noah Gragson told FS1 after the race. “This one is going to hurt for a while.”

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Myatt Snider scored three top fives and eight top 10s on his way to rookie honors. Snider’s best finish this season was runner-up at Talladega. His best unrestricted finish was a third at Martinsville.

NOTABLE: This is the first time since 1999 that the champion won the season finale.

WHAT’S NEXT: Nextera Energy Resources 250 on Feb. 15, 2019 at Daytona International Speedway.

Should Denny Hamlin’s team take No. 1 pit stall or leave it for Kyle Busch?

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin’s pole-winning effort Friday night made for an emotional moment in his final Cup race with close friend Mike Wheeler as his crew chief.

Hamlin’s pole also created a quandary.

With the pole, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team has the first pick of pit stalls. Any other race, it’s an easy call: The team takes the No. 1 pit stall at the exit of pit road.

MORE: Denny Hamlin will have a new crew chief in 2019

But things are complicated because Hamlin is not in the title race and teammate Kyle Busch, who qualified second and whose team has second pick of pit stalls, is racing for a championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

If Hamlin’s team takes a different pit stall, it would allow Busch to have the No. 1 stall, which is viewed as the best on pit road. That could be the difference in having the lead off pit road and could impact who wins the championship.

So, what will Wheeler do when crew chiefs make their pit stall selection Saturday morning?

“We’re paid to win races for JGR and (sponsor) FedEx,” Wheeler told NBC Sports. “It’s definitely on my mind and my heart to be aware of that for Denny and our team. Obviously, we want to win a championship for JGR, too. That’s one of the biggest goals, a bigger goal this weekend. There’s some chatter going on about that.”

In one sense, it could be an easy call — let Busch have the No. 1 pit stall. The focus in any organization at this point is on the team racing for a championship. So why not give that team that advantage?

On the other hand, Hamlin is winless this year and could have one of his best chances to score a victory and extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 13. He won this race in 2013 to keep that streak alive. 

“I think everything is earned,” Hamlin said. “Nothing is given. With us having the No. 1 pit stall, nobody else — none of the other competitors will have it. I don’t know. It’s a discussion. I mean, certainly I would think that (Wheeler), with the pressure always to win, you’ve got to do everything you can to win. We’ll have that discussion.”

The pit stalls at Homestead-Miami Speedway are 30-feet, 8-inches long. The camera at the end of pit road is about 40 feet from the No. 1 pit stall. That’s closer than some other tracks. That means a driver in that stall can fire out of the pit stall and surge ahead of those coming down pit road.

Last year, Hamlin’s team faced a similar issue but it was an easier call. Hamlin, who was not in the title race, won the pole. Martin Truex Jr., a title contender, qualified second last year. Truex’s team — which has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing — asked if Hamlin’s team could take another pit stall so Truex could have the No. 1 stall. Hamlin’s team declined.

Cup starting lineup at Miami

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Denny Hamlin posted a lap of 173.863 mph to win his second consecutive pole at Miami and his third in the past four years.

He edged teammate Kyle Busch (173.622 mph) by .043 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (173.539), Brad Keselowski (173.433) and Joey Logano (173.366) rounded out the top five.

Kevin Harvick posted a lap of 171.942 mph to line up 12th on Sunday. This is the furthest back he has been at Miami since 2015 when he qualified 13th and finished second.

Click here for the complete starting lineup.