Richard Petty Motorsports’ future: Stay with Ford or potential move to Toyota, Chevy or Dodge?

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Like a wheel of fortune, around and around and around it goes, and where Richard Petty Motorsports winds up at, still nobody knows.

Although some recent reports claim RPM will shift from Ford to Toyota for 2015, RPM vice president of competition Sammy Johns told MRN.com’s Dustin Long on Saturday that there has been no movement or decision on which manufacturer the organization will align itself with.

RPM has been with Ford since the last three races of the 2009 season, switching to the so-called blue oval after nearly two seasons with Dodge.

According to reports last month, team patriarch Richard Petty has had recent meetings with representatives of both Toyota and Ford.

Ford Racing director Jamie Allison said RPM’s contract with the manufacturer does not expire after this season, contrary to what other reports and rumors have indicated.

Conspicuous by its absence in reports and rumors about RPM’s future is a lack of discussion about a potential partnership with Chevrolet.

While RPM would likely have significant resources at its disposal if it affiliated with Chevrolet – perhaps more so than it currently has with Ford – if the legendary team indeed does leave Ford, it would most likely be headed to Toyota, if reports and rumors are to be believed.

As wild as some of the rumors and reports about RPM’s future have been, it would not be completely out of the realm of possibility that RPM may stay with Ford through 2015 and then potentially spearhead a possible return to Sprint Cup by Dodge. During its last round of negotiations with Ford back in 2012, Petty said at the time he would not rule out a return to Dodge.

Of course, that depends on if Dodge wants to get back into NASCAR, a possibility company officials have had little to say about of late.

The last time RPM’s contract came up for renewal with Ford, it was subsequently left without much of a choice but to remain with Ford when Dodge announced it would leave NASCAR at the end of that season, ironically enough right after Brad Keselowski and Team Penske won the championship in a Dodge Charger.

Also weighing heavy on the minds of the RPM braintrust is whether driver Marcos Ambrose will stay with the team or leave when his current contract expires at the end of this season.

There have been several reports that Ambrose is considering returning to his native Australia and to race on the increasingly popular V8 Supercars series, with some reports having Ambrose racing for a new team potentially to be owned by legendary IndyCar and NASCAR team owner Roger Penske.

However, Ambrose recently denied those rumors and insisted he wants to remain with RPM, an organization that is on the upswing.

During January’s annual preseason NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, Petty questioned whether Ambrose indeed would return for 2015.

“I don’t know how much longer he wants to stay in the U.S.,” Petty said candidly at the time. “You know, (Ambrose has) come a long way. He’s sort of a hero in Australia just because he’s running Cup. His big deal is if he could win on a round and around racetrack, that would be the optimum for him. If he did do that, he’d probably just go home and say, ‘Thank you guys,’ but I don’t know.”

All reports and rumors aside, the Sprint Cup Series races next weekend in the backyard of the Big Three manufacturers, namely, Michigan International Speedway.

If RPM is to make any announcement, particularly if it will stay with Ford or not, or whether it will jump to Toyota, Chevy or even Dodge, MIS would be a perfect venue to do so.

On another topic, Johns told MRN.com that RPM is looking for sponsorship for up-and-coming driver Corey LaJoie, son of former NASCAR driver Randy LaJoie.

The younger LaJoie won the ARCA race at Pocono last year, but was not in the field for Saturday’s race there.

Johns said the team hopes to have LaJoie do some Sprint Cup testing soon.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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