The Hot Pass: Gillett opens up about RPM
If there was any question whether a Saudi prince might own a piece of Richard Petty Motorsports one day, the answer is "yes."
George Gillett acknowledged Saturday morning that, through discussions with Prince Faisal and his F6 Saudi Arabia-based sport management firm on a variety of commercial properties, the possibility exists for a potential NASCAR partnership.
Gillett followed that up immediately by saying majority interest was not on the table and no deal has been completed.
"It was a very early conversation," Gillett said. "Somehow, somebody got the story and completely distorted it. So that is the story.
"I come here today a man with a clean conscience and potentially a very attractive partner. If he or they became small investors with us, I can't imagine it would be anything but positive for the sport."
But what works for Gillett and RPM going forward? Gillett is guarded about long-range goals and justifies his answer by saying where his family and the Pettys are going in the future is "private." He says the company runs on a three-year cycle and beyond that is anyone's guess.
The Reader's Digest version of the future of Richard Petty Motorsports as far as Gillett is concerned?
"If the question is do we plan on being in NASCAR? Heck, yes," Gillett replied. "Do we intend on being partners with Richard Petty? You bet. Do we intend to not only be in the winner's circle but be in the Chase and hopefully, winning a championship or two in the next few years? Absolutely. Do we intend to do it with — for the most part — the people that are currently with us, i.e. Kasey (Kahne) and AJ (Allmendinger) and so forth? The answer is yes."
But what about additional questions that have been left unanswered, particularly since mid-September, when early discussions of a partnership with Yates Racing and Ford began as well as the departure of vice president of competition Mark McArdle?
Gillett said the Yates transaction was "on track" and has moved from "a letter of intent to a formal contract." He said once the deal with Yates is complete, Robby Loomis "will manage the business on a day-to-day basis in all likelihood" but Richard Petty "will always be the leader of this."
Two major areas left to be determined are the driver lineup and location of the operation. Gillett said: "We'll have for sure three teams and hopefully four," but would not name names or offer specifics. The only drivers named in the discussion were Kahne and Allmendinger. It was reported earlier this season that Reed Sorenson and RPM would part ways at the end of the season. There is still a question as to where Paul Menard — and his family's sponsorship — will land in 2010, although he was originally named as one of the four drivers for the team when the deal was announced. No mention was made of Elliott Sadler on Saturday.
Gillett said RPM's management has looked at "three or four different sites" and is "leaning" toward the Yates Racing building in Concord, N.C. Insiders say that even three teams under the Yates roof, which is adjacent to the Roush Fenway complex, would be a tight fit. The possibility remains the teams could stay in Statesville, N.C., — but not likely.
"We have been looking at leasing space in several of the shops south of where we currently are in Statesville," Gillett said. "We've looked at continuing in Statesville and we've looked at the Yates site, the lease that they have, which has a year or two to go on it, from an economic standpoint would probably be the most efficient."
downlevel descriptionThis video requires the Adobe Flash Player. Download a free version of the player.
The bottom line is Gillett needs a manufacturer for RPM and Roush Fenway Racing needs customers to replace the two teams that will leave at the end of the season — the No. 26 (which will fold at the end of 2009 to fall in line with NASCAR's four-car rule) and No. 96 (Hall of Fame Racing, which is shopping for a new partner).
It's anticipated the Petty-Yates deal will be completed by the end of this month, with an announcement coming as early as the race weekend at Charlotte in two weeks.
Matt Kenseth is not used to being on the outside looking in. However, that's where the former Cup champ finds himself after not making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
His revenge? To lead laps and win races with eight races remaining in the postseason. Kenseth rolled off 23rd on Saturday, but was third-fastest in Happy Hour with a lap of 172.205 mph.
"Our car did have good speed the whole practice," Kenseth said. "I'm pretty happy with it. We seem to have found some stuff that seems to be running faster and a little bit better, but I think we have a ways to go to drive good and be competitive for 400 miles."
Jimmie Johnson topped the chart with a lap of 172.983 mph.
By the numbers
In the beginning ...
So who is this 19-year-old prodigy at Penske Racing? Lee Spencer
Kligerman, 19, who is a development driver for Penske Racing, wheeled the No. 22 Penske Dodge to a 16th-place finish.
There's no love lost between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, who will start 22nd and third, respectively, on Sunday. The two tangled again in the Nationwide Series race at Dover last week, reigniting an earlier feud from Charlotte last season.
"I still don't agree with (Keselowski) and he hasn't called me to reach out to say he's sorry, so as far as I'm concerned, he needs to be worried whenever I'm around," Hamlin said.
"I didn't know I was supposed to call him. I thought he was going to call me," Keselowski said. "I don't know. This is what makes racing awesome. Otherwise, it's just cars going in circles, so you've got to have some human drama. As to how I feel about it, I'm looking towards the future, and I'm not looking toward the past. As for as how I'm going to race around him because I'm sure that's the next question somebody is going to ask, no differently than I've raced around him before. He's another race car driver, and that's how I see him."