Richard Petty did not mince words Tuesday in expressing his anger and disappointment over losing sponsor Smithfield Foods to rival Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team Stewart-Haas Racing.
Smithfield had sponsored Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola since he began his fulltime Cup career in 2012. And Petty was all but certain the company would be back in the fold next season on the No. 43 Ford.
"We have had numerous discussions with Smithfield Foods regarding the extension of our relationship dating as far back as February," Petty said in a statement. "Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us, and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship.
"I come from a time when we did major deals with sponsors like STP on a handshake. I'm sad to see this is where we are now. This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction."
The loss of Smithfield means RPM will also part ways with Almirola, who earned 28 top-10 finishes with the team, including a victory in the 2014 summer race at Daytona International Speedway.
Smithfield Foods Statement Regarding Richard Petty Motorsports pic.twitter.com/vyrVoGQwvN— Smithfield Foods (@SmithfieldFoods) September 12, 2017
Petty, a seven-time champion and the NASCAR career leader with 200 wins, said losing a sponsor of this magnitude "is a significant set-back to Richard Petty Motorsports," but that RPM was "committed to moving forward with the No. 43 team. ... Our fans will rally around the No. 43. We've been around since 1949, and we'll be around a lot longer."
Smithfield fired back Tuesday evening with its own statement, denying the handshake deal, chastising Petty for what the company termed "false statements," and blistering RPM for its failure to perform at a high level on the track. The statement, attributed to Smithfield Foods President and CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan, read in part:
"We are extremely disappointed that Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) has chosen to disparage Smithfield -- its lead sponsor -- after five years and tens of millions of dollars of unwavering financial support despite years of subpar performance on the track. RPM's claim of a 'handshake deal' to extend our sponsorship are unequivocally and patently false. Smithfield's numerous discussions with RPM over the past several months focused exclusively around one issue: RPM's inability to deliver on the track and the organization's repeated failure to present a plan to address its lack of competitiveness"
It is unclear at this time which driver will carry the Smithfield logo for Stewart-Haas Racing next season. SHR driver Danica Patrick announced Tuesday that she will not be back with the team in 2018. Kurt Busch's contract was not renewed by the organization, though SHR had said when they made the Busch announcement that they hoped to bring the 2017 Daytona 500 winner back on a new contract.
Petty had hoped to field a car for Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr., who filled in for Almirola this season when he missed seven races with a fractured back. Wallace drove the No. 43 in four races with a best finish of 11th at Kentucky Speedway. Almirola's best 2017 finishes came at the Daytona 500 and the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway. He finished fourth in both events.