Friday September 11th, 2009

NASCAR's competitive universe continues to shrink. And it might be the best thing that's happened to Richard Petty in a long time.

In what seems to be its umpteenth incarnation in the last 18 months, Richard Petty Motorsports will partner with Yates Racing in 2010. The move, which essentially combines three operations (Petty merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports on the eve of the 2009 season) will give RPM a four-car team and transfer its manufacturing sponsorship over from Dodge to Ford.

The Petty roster will include, in order of precedence, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, A.J. Allmendinger and Paul Menard. Left out in the cold are several cars and drivers: Jamie McMurray, who's deal in the No. 26 Ford with Roush Fenway Racing won't be renewed and who was widely rumored to be considering a move to Yates; Petty's Reed Sorenson, who has been a disappointment in the No. 43 Dodge; and Hall of Fame Racing's No. 96 Ford, run by Yates and usually driven by former Cup champion Bobby Labonte.

But rather than shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship, this change seems to be another step back towards relevance for the man known as the King. RPM is the most successful team in NASCAR history, with 268 Cup victories, but it's been a long time since it's been very good. Petty took his first step towards changing that two years ago, when he moved his team's headquarters from its traditional home in Level Cross, N.C., to a location outside of Charlotte, where most of NASCAR lives and works.

The merger with Canadian businessman George Gillett put Kahne, one of the best drivers in the series, in the RPM stable. That hasn't just put the King back into Victory Lane -- see last weekend at Atlanta -- but it has also got him on the cusp of his first ever berth in NASCAR's postseason.

Combining with Yates, a Roush Fenway satellite, will infuse RPM with more resources, more people and a manufacturer that as recently as last year was in serious contention for a championship.

Times have certainly changed for Petty. His isn't a family business anymore, and while the King may be the public face of his team, nobody thinks he's in the shop calling the shots on how to build his cars anymore. But he is a winner again. And that's good for everybody in the sport.

37: Points separating Kyle Busch, in 14th place in the Cup standings, and 12th-place driver Matt Kenseth

56: Largest points deficit overcome by a driver to make the Chase (Jeremy Mayfield in 2004)

6.1: Busch's average finish at Richmond

16.7: Kenseth's average finish at RIR

There's a pretty robust debate going on these days about the best way to commemorate the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Leaving arguments aside, here's one I think we can all get behind: Nationwide driver Benny Martin will race this weekend at Richmond in a car that acknowledges the eighth anniversary of that terrible day.

The car, which is sponsored by the Samuel Company, a Canada-based metal processing and distribution outfit, was unveiled at Ground Zero back on Aug. 31, in a ceremony attended by Martin, his team and a crew of 9/11 first-responders -- each of whom signed the underside of the hood. Pretty cool.

Click here to see a slideshow of the car.

We remember.

Thanks for reading Racing Fan. I'll see you all next week in the postseason.

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