Smithfield Foods started the NASCAR day by announcing what everyone expected — it was leaving Richard Petty Motorsports and its sponsorship of the No. 43 for Stewart Haas racing. Smithfield made the announcement in a series of tweets.
In an interesting development, Smithfield said it wouldn’t release details until a later, unspecified date.
That leaves open a whole host of possibilities. Here’s a rundown:
WHAT’S UP WITH ARIC ALMIROLA?
The current driver of the No. 43 has been with Smithfield since 2012, and speculation continues to grow that he’ll join SHR as a result. But, in what car? Team owner Gene Haas has already said he wants back Kurt Busch — who doesn’t have a sponsor for next year — in the No. 41, and has glowed about the marketing savvy of Danica Patrick, who currently has the No. 10 — but also, no sponsorship. Much of the speculation surrounds Almirola taking the No. 10 seat, which would leave Patrick in the cold.
ANOTHER STEWART-HAAS CAR?
Granted this is just pure speculation, and the economics probably don’t make any sense. But SHR did add a car in 2017 — albeit in the XFinity series for up-and-comer Cole Custer — but that’s still an expense. With Smithfield joining an impressive list of partners that include Coca-Cola, Monster Energy Drink and Jimmy Johns, it’s possible — but not probable — that another team enter the garage.
DANICA PATRICK WAVES GOODBYE
She doesn’t have a sponsor. Her No. 10 is apparently being eyed by Smithfield and Almirola. She has tremendous outside business interests. Her popularity extends far beyond the race track. It is quite possible we’ve seen the last of a groundbreaking driver.
BUBBA WALLACE IS A VIRTUAL SHOE-IN FOR RPM
This will be the most anti-climatic official announcement whenever it comes down. RPM has been making eyes at Wallace for a while now, and it’s already been widely reported that he would take the No. 43 if RPM couldn’t find a sponsor for a second car. Now, RPM doesn’t have to worry about that, though they do have to worry about a sponsor.
The most likely possibilities — Wallace in the RPM No. 43, Almirola to the SHR No. 10, Danica Patrick to a career in whatever else it is she wants to do. You could actually argue she’s in a better place than anyone who will be impacted by this.