The King and the Aussie, winners at Watkins Glen (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
It's been more than two months since Marcos Ambrose' win at Watkins Glen, but Ford has finally re-signed Richard Petty's two-car Sprint Cup team to a new one-year contract...albeit with a lot of questions, like who will be the drivers and who will be all the sponsors.
The terms of the deal were not announced, but it will keep Petty and his business partners Andrew Murstein and Douglas Bergeron in Jack Roush equipment.
Petty's team runs out of shops at Roush's Concord, N.C., complex.
Petty will also field a Nationwide team in 2013.
The Petty operation, long storied in stock car racing, has hit some rough patches in recent years, including the ill-fated George Gillett venture.
When Petty, a long-time Dodge man, before his Ford and General Motors seasons, apparently irritated Ford execs earlier this year when he made a pitch to return to Dodge, after Roger Penske announced he was leaving Dodge to join Ford.
Dodge execs in August decided to drop out of NASCAR, leaving Petty scrambling. A pitch to Chevrolet was apparently made, with an eye toward the Richard Childress operation.
However if Petty and his teams were to leave Ford, they would have had to move into a new shop with new equipment, a potential $10 million investment.
And Ford and Roush have been key in Petty sponsorships, another angle to consider here.
Ambrose has won two Cup races and a Nationwide race for Petty.
However it's unclear if Ambrose and teammate Aric Almirola will be returning next season.
Petty did announce that sponsors Stanley, Dewalt and Smithfield Foods would continue with the operation.
The Petty-Ford announcement comes in the middle of the NASCAR championship chase, which winds up at Homestead-Miami Speedway in four weeks. Ford's two title contenders, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, are all but out the hunt.
And as strong as Biffle and Kenseth performed most of the season, the stumbles in the playoffs have been accentuated.
In turn that has raised the question about what Ford hasn't won more NASCAR championships over the years. Since 1976 General Motors teams have won 31 Cup championships, to Ford's five titles (Bill Elliott in 1988, Alan Kulwicki 1992, Dale Jarrett 1999, Kenseth 2003, and Kurt Busch 2004).
Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Ambrose appeared very happy with the announcement and indicated he hoped to be back in one of Petty's cars next season:
"We are all squared away, as far as what the expectations are on both sides and it is just a matter of finishing it off," Ambrose says.
"I can't see any reason why I wouldn't want to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports in 2013. There are a lot of good things to look forward to. We have built a great team and have great partners with Ford and Roush, with their engine program, and also the engineering support.
"We have the new 2013 Fusion coming out...
"I want to be in NASCAR.... I want to be around and I want to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports.
"NASCAR is a tough road and has been a challenge for me at times to keep my head above water."