Richard Petty Motorsports downsizing to one-car operation

Richard Petty Motorsports is downsizing again.

The team co-owned by Richard Petty, the seven-time NASCAR Premier Series champion and winner of 200 races as a driver, will campaign just a single car for Aric Almirola in 2017.

“At the conclusion of the 2016 season, we evaluated how to best improve our on-track product,” the team said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We feel that it’s in the best interest of our partners and for Richard Petty Motorsports to focus our resources on the No. 43 Ford Fusion and Aric (Almirola) in 2017.

“A concentrated effort on one team will position us for improvement while giving us adequate time to reestablish our two-car team in 2018. For the interim, we will lease one of our two charters.”

As recently as 2010, RPM campaigned four full-time cars for Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler, and Paul Menard.

But in 2011, RPM scaled back to just two cars for Allmendinger and Australian driver Marcos Ambrose.

Almirola replaced Allmendinger in 2012, and two years later won the July Daytona race, which put Almirola in the Chase.

Ambrose departed after 2014 to return home to Australia. He was replaced first by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2015 and then Brian Scott in 2016.

But on the same day last month, Scott said he was retiring and sponsor Albertsons announced it would not return to the No. 44 for 2017, so the No. 44 will not race next year.

RPM is the second Ford team to downsize for next season.

Roush Fenway Racing, which campaigned five full-time cars from 2003-10, will field just two next year, one each for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne.

Ford will have a net gain in Premier Series cars next year, however, as the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing team will move from Chevrolet to Ford next year.