JOLIET, Ill. – As far as Richard Petty Motorsports is concerned, there are two known quantities where the legendary race team is concerned.
First, Aric Almirola will not be behind the wheel of the No. 43 RPM Ford next season. Second, sponsor Smithfield Foods has opted not to renew its support for RPM next year, choosing instead to shift its backing to Stewart-Haas Racing.
What remains to be revealed is the identity of RPM’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver for 2018. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., who spent four races in the No. 43 Ford while Almirola was recovering from a crushed vertebra sustained during a wreck at Kansas in May, hopes he gets the nod. And Wallace acknowledged on Friday at Chicagoland Speedway that he and RPM are working toward that goal.
“Things with the 43 are still shaking out,” said Wallace, who was impressive in his four-event stint as a sub. “That’s in RPM’s hands right now. Obviously, the news that came out the other day (about Smithfield’s departure), they are pushing hard to fight through some things and I’m supporting them.
“Nothing is set in stone. We’re still trying to figure out what we need to do.”
Though there has been speculation that Almirola will follow Smithfield to Stewart-Haas—particularly now that Danica Patrick has revealed she will exit the No. 10 Ford at season’s end—Almirola declined to discuss his 2018 status during a question-and-answer session behind the No. 43 transporter on Friday afternoon.
“I am not going to comment on 2018,” Almirola said. “I am here to comment on finding out I am not going to be driving the 43 car.”
Almirola said team owner Richard Petty had notified him he wouldn’t be returning to the No. 43 Ford “many weeks ago.”