Perseverance, 30 years of patience pays off for Richard Petty

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NASCAR has been accused at times over the years – unfairly, I might add – of scripting the outcome of races.

In other words, the finish of certain races was predetermined – that is, if you believe the fertile imaginations of critics, naysayers and conspiracy theorists.

But even if that illogical belief were indeed true though, NASCAR couldn’t come close to writing the kind of script that led to Aric Almirola’s win in Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Without question, it was the greatest weekend in Richard Petty Motorsports (and before that, Petty Enterprises) history in three decades.

Consider:

1) Team owner Richard Petty turned 77 this past Wednesday.

2) Petty earned the 200th and final Cup race of his career during this same weekend at Daytona 30 years ago in 1984. And the congratulations line couldn’t have been much better: leading best wishes for Petty’s achievement that day in-person was then-President Ronald Reagan.

3) The No. 43 had not been in victory lane since John Andretti did so in April 1999 at Martinsville, and had not been in a Daytona victory lane since The King’s 200th win.

4) Almirola has all but qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, marking only the second time a Petty driver has attained that lofty goal (Kasey Kahne did so in 2010, finishing 10th in the final standings).

5) And then there’s little gem of a fact: While Petty obviously drove the majority of races, Almirola is actually the 43rd driver to drive arguably NASCAR’s most famous car number, the 43.

When he learned that in Sunday’s post-race press conference, Almirola responded simply, “No way.”

Yes, way, Aric.

The significance of what he did Sunday, even though it was in a rain-shortened event, was not lost upon Almirola.

“I’ve (now gone) to victory lane, and all the history behind the car and the race car and stuff, you know, I’m very appreciative of that and very cool – I think it’s very cool that we won on this weekend,” Almirola said. “It’s 30 years to the weekend that The King won his 200th race with the President here.  That’s really special.

“But I’m a little bit selfish and I’m more worried about the fact that I’ve won my first Cup race. It’s just so cool, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Richard and our owners have given us at Richard Petty Motorsports to go out and to try and be successful.

“To now be able to get them to victory lane, to be in the Chase and to be able to go race for a championship, it is really special, and our race team deserves that.”

Almirola’s win was so unexpected that Petty left the racetrack early to begin his drive back to the Charlotte area. As it turned out, Petty missed all the celebration and the ability to be there in victory lane with his driver and winning team.

Still, Petty put things in perspective in a way that only he can, calling into the media center at Daytona International Speedway to offer his thoughts on Almirola’s feat.

“Well, 30 years ago is history, okay, and today is future, today is today,” Petty said. “So to be able to win the race down there, win it for the Air Force, 4th of July, you know, the whole thing is just great.

“I just feel so good for the crew. They’ve been working; they’re like everybody else, they work hard. They’ve done this deal. We’ve had so many disappointments, and finally it rained on us, but it rained on us at the right time, okay. Overall it was just a great day for us.

“And then Marcos (Ambrose) got in a wreck or two and still wound up 10th. Richard Petty Motorsports had a pretty good day.”

Boy, that’s an understatement if there ever was one.

“But he didn’t give it up,” Almirola said of Petty. “From 1992 until today, he still comes to the racetrack pretty much every weekend. He was here this weekend and decided to go home, so I hate it that you’re not here, Boss.

“But it’s really cool to know all that history and to realize that the 43 car is without a doubt the most famous car in our sport’s history. And to have that opportunity to drive that race car has been really special from the day that I stepped foot in it.

“All I wanted to do from the very first time I drove it was get it to victory lane.  It took two and a half years, I guess, but I finally did it.”

For the most part, Richard Petty Motorsports – and before that, Petty Enterprises – had struggled for the most of the last 30 years. But in perhaps one of the most extreme examples of the saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” Petty showed Job-like patience to keep coming back race after race, season after season and decade after decade, hoping for a day like he, his family and organization all experienced Sunday.

“You’ve been around me long enough to know that I don’t never give up on anything, and like I said, might have been 30 years,” Petty said. “(The 43’s last win) was what, ’99?

“If you look back at the history and Petty Enterprises, all the turmoil we’ve been through in the last seven, eight years and all that stuff, I never give up on the thing. So it was one of those deals that I said, okay, if I keep working at it long enough, we’re going to be able to overcome all this.”

But, Petty is also a pragmatist to go along with being a realist. He knows that another 30 years of drought could start next Sunday at New Hampshire (although he’s hoping it won’t, and that Ambrose’s success continues).

“Just winning one race doesn’t overcome it,” Petty said. “Don’t get me wrong. But it puts you in a higher speed track, and you know you can do it. It proves that we can do it, the drivers know we can do it, and I think it’s just going to make it that much easier to go from here.

“Everybody has got to have a start, and I think this will get us started pretty good.”

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Wayne Taylor Racing, Meyer Shank Racing will race Acura in IMSA DPi

New Acura IMSA teams
Acura Motorsports
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Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing will become new Acura Motorsports teams next season in the Daytona Prototype International class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

In a multiyear deal, each team will campaign a car in IMSA’s top division starting with 2021, essentially replacing Acura’s two-car factory effort with Team Penske that will be ending after a three-season run.

Honda Performance Development president Ted Klaus said drivers for WTR and MSR would be announced later by the teams.

Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Cadillac leads the points in the DPi division this season with drivers Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande after opening the season with a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, its second in the past three seasons in the prestigious sports car event.

Meyer Shank Racing will be moving up to the DPi level after campaigning Acura NSX GT3 entries in the GT Daytona class this season. MSR also fields a full-time Dallara-Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Acura Motorsports

Here’s the release from Acura Motorsports:

Acura Motorsports today announced it will partner with Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing to campaign a pair of Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype International entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, beginning in 2021.

“It is a pleasure to announce that Wayne Taylor Racing will be joining the Acura ARX-05 IMSA program in 2021, along with Meyer Shank Racing, which will build on our very successful partnership by moving up to the prototype ranks,” said Jon Ikeda, Acura Brand Officer. “We’re confident that both teams will help us build on the successes we’ve achieved to date in IMSA competition, as we continue to apply Precision Crafted Performance to all of our activities – on the race circuits of North America, in our production vehicles, and in the market place.

“We also want to thank Roger Penske, who has long been an important part of the Acura family as one of our great Acura dealers. It has been a privilege to have Roger as part of the Acura Motorsports family over the past three years.”

Defending IMSA GTD class champion Meyer Shank Racing [MSR] is in its third decade of operation. With wins in some of the biggest races in the sport, the Ohio-based team played a key role in the development of the successful Acura NSX GT3 Evo, and has raced the car to victory lane in four consecutive seasons, culminating in the drivers’ and teams’ titles in 2019. Acura and MSR are the current leaders in all three major GTD title championships.

“When Acura and HPD chose Meyer Shank Racing to debut the Acura NSX GT3 in 2017, it was a big moment in our history. I’m really proud of building a championship-winning program and everything that we’ve been able to accomplish together with the NSX,” said Michael Shank, co-owner of Meyer Shank Racing. “As a team, we’ve been working toward the opportunity to go and fight for overall wins for a long time, and I am eager to get going with this program. But we have some work to do first, and we are 100 percent focused on bringing another IMSA championship home with the Acura NSX in 2020.”

“Mike and I are both eager to expand our IMSA program and get to once again work with Acura and HPD,” said MSR co-owner Jim Meyer. “Mike has built such a strong IMSA program over the last decade, and this is another step that we’re looking forward to pursuing.”

Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, Wayne Taylor Racing [WTR] has built a proven track record of success and ingenuity in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class, including two IMSA driver championships [in 2013 and 2017] and the 2017 IMSA DPi team championship. A three-time champion as a driver in sports car competition and Le Mans winner in 1998, Taylor’s Acura roots stretch back to 1992, when he drove for the championship-winning Comptech Acura team in IMSA Camel Lights competition.

WTR also has played an important role in winning eight IMSA manufacturer championships and has scored multiple victories in endurance racing’s most iconic events – the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Twelve Hours of Sebring, Petit Le Mans, and Six Hours at Watkins Glen.

“I am extremely excited to have this opportunity given to me by HPD and Acura Motorsports,” said Wayne Taylor, owner of Wayne Taylor Racing. “Since getting to know everyone at HPD and Acura Motorsports, I feel that they have a lot of respect for the Wayne Taylor Racing family. What I really like is that they have the same passion and vision as I do. I am looking forward to running the DPi for the next few years. I am equally excited to be able to bring my long-term partnership with Konica Minolta, Rick Taylor and Michael Mathe to the program. We all can’t wait to get started.”

“We welcome Wayne Taylor Racing into the Acura Motorsports family, and very much anticipate their contributions to our prototype program,” said Ted Klaus, president of HPD, the competition arm for Acura Motorsports. “Equally, we look forward to growing our successful partnership with Meyer Shank Racing, now in DPi. Our intention is to have Acura Motorsports partner with MSR and WTR, to not only continue our championship ways in DPi, but to collaborate to develop the next generation Acura LMDh. Finally, we want to thank Team Penske for their outstanding effort and impressive results together with Acura and HPD these past three years.”

In addition to sweeping all three major IMSA DPi championships in 2019 – for Manufacturers, Drivers and Teams – the Acura ARX-05 has scored six race wins, 14 additional podium finishes, and 11 poles from 25 races in two-and-a-half seasons of IMSA multi-manufacturer competition that has included Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. Acura comes to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course seeking a third consecutive win this season, as well as a third consecutive victory in this weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.

Acura Motorsports also campaigns the Acura NSX GT3 Evo in the IMSA GTD category, with defending GTD champion Meyer Shank Racing and the Gradient Racing organizations.  Winner of the IMSA GTD driver and team titles in 2019 – and the current GTD championship leader – the NSX program is expected to continue in IMSA competition in 2021.