The departure, at seasons end, of Michael Annett from Richard Petty Motorsports has opened up a seat in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2014. While sponsorship of the number 43 may be uncertain, RPM certainly has a talented driver in Ryan Truex who is fully capable of taking over the ride. However, they also have another talented driver in Corey LaJoie on their roster. Who gets the ride may depend on sponsorship.
Richard Petty Motorsports signed both Truex and LaJoie to driver developmental deals in 2013. This despite having no existing rides available to them, and the fact that both drivers have struggled to find sponsorship on their own. The thinking was to clearly lock up some young talent, and then find a way to get them on the track.
RPM may have gotten some assistance in finding a spot for at least one of these drivers when Michael Annett announced he was leaving the organization for a chance to drive the number 7 car in NASCAR Sprint Cup for Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2014. Going with Annett to TBR was also his long time sponsor Pilot Flying J.
The logical choice to take over the number 43 Ford would seem to be Truex. The New Jersey native, and younger brother of Sprint Cup driver Martin Truex Jr., is a two-time champion of the K&N Pro Series East. He also has started Nationwide races for teams including Michael Waltrip Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, and even Joe Gibbs Racing.
It was at JGR where Truex had his most success despite only having a limited number of starts. He came as close as you can to having a perfect weekend in the Nationwide Series at Dover in June of 2012. The young driver sat on the pole, and dominated much of the race, only to encounter two lapped cars he had trouble getting by in the closing laps, which allowed Joey Logano to get by him for the win in the closing laps.
While the race showed Truex had the talent to get it done on the Nationwide level, his inability to turn it into sponsorship dollars didn’t allow him to continue on with JGR. It would seem the only thing that could keep him out of the RPM number 43 would be those same sponsorship issues.
Corey LaJoie may be just as talented as his RPM teammate, although he doesn’t have the championships to show it. Unfortunately for LaJoie, he has seemed to struggle even more than Truex in securing sponsorship in his young career. Before the departure of Annett it seemed RPM was mapping out a plan to get LaJoie more seat time in the ARCA Series and the Camping World Truck Series.
Sponsorship could change that. Truex may have the experience, and championship edge, over LaJoie, but whichever driver brings the much needed dollars may actually end up behind the wheel of the 43.
RPM may even decide to forego a chance at the driver’s championship, and have both of their talented youngsters take turns with the Nationwide entry. This would certainly not be the perfect situation for either driver, but money drives the sport of NASCAR. If neither can bring a full-time sponsor to the team, don’t be surprised to see both behind the wheel of the 43 in 2014.