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With George Gillett and Richard Petty still missing, Robbie Loomis steps to the plate to lay out what's really going on...well, sort of: To Be Continued

  Robbie Loomis (L) and the King. But where's team owner George Gillett, and what's really going on with Richard Petty Motorsports?(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR

   By Mike Mulhern



   George Gillett.
  This is precisely why NASCAR may need a new rule requiring team owners to be at each race track every race weekend, a rule eliminating 'ghost' owners who are rarely if ever seen, or available to answer questions.
   So it was up to Robbie Loomis, the veteran team manager and one-time star crew chief, to step to the plate here Saturday and discuss the current furor surrounding Gillett-owned Richard Petty Motorsports, and try to calm the waters.  Loomis insists the operation has a game plan for 2011, though it's unclear just how well that plan may be falling into place, or how well that plan might be accepted by the men on the team

   However it should be pointed out that Loomis himself was one of the key's to Jack Roush's decision last fall to bring the RPM operation into the Ford fold.
   The background:
   Where's George Gillett? Why isn't he addressing all this? He bought into this NASCAR thing, but he's been only rarely seen. The last time he had a press conference was at Kansas in the fall of 2009, when he rambled on about dealing with a Saudi prince for financial support and perhaps creating a NASCAR-Middle-East venture.
     Wall Street's publicly traded companies have to be transparent about their business dealings, and those companies have to meet-the-media (or at least business analysts) every quarter or so. NASCAR should require no less of the CEOs of these racing operations.
    George Gillett, who owns Richard Petty Motorsports, the four-team Sprint Cup operation running under Ford aegis this season, hasn't been seen in the NASCAR garage for months.
   Now, with his stock car racing empire, and apparently some of his other major international sports ventures, under fire and under question, with financial support seemingly a major issue, Gillett is still missing in action.
   Gillett is the somewhat mysterious sports businessman from Colorado that Ray Evernham brought into this sport when he was trying to sell out his share of what was the cornerstone operation for the Chrysler-Dodge return to this sport. Gillett at that time owned the Montreal Canadiens, which he has since sold (for some $300 million US); and business partner Tom Hicks owned the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars. Together Gillett and Hicks also owned the Liverpool soccer franchise.
   But Gillett and Hicks 'bought high,' and when the recession hit their assets lost considerable value. They've since been trying to renegotiate their sports finances.

  Foster Gillett, who manages Richard Petty Motorsports for owner/father George Gillett, at Texas Motor Speedway in April, discussing the pending loss of star driver Kasey Kahne (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Earlier this year Foster Gillett, George's son and the family's operations manager for its NASCAR ventures, discussed briefly the family's attempts to restructure a $90 million loan, a loan that apparently had bearing on the team's NASCAR operations. There has been no update on that process.
   For the past several months the Gillett-Petty operation rolled along without making much news.
   However that has suddenly changed: In the past few days Gillett-Petty abruptly split with star driver Kasey Kahne (whose career started with Dodge, then went with Ford, and is here this weekend driving for Toyota, while awaiting a 2012 ride with Chevrolet's Rick Hendrick).
   AJ Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Paul Menard are the other three Petty-Gillett drivers this season. Allmendinger is the only one to sign for 2011 with Petty-Gillett; Marcos Ambrose, who agreed two months ago to join Petty-Gillett in 2011, says he still stands by that agreement, but appeared here this weekend to be a bit shaken by all the questions surrounding the team. Sadler is not expected to be coming back; in fact Gillett once tried to fire Sadler only to realize the terms of Sadler's contract.
   When Kahne announced in April he would be leaving Petty-Gillett at the end of the season, the Budweiser sponsorship was suddenly in play. That sponsorship has now gone to rival Richard Childress.
   The only firm Petty-Gillett sponsorship would appear to be Stanley; Best Buy's deal is still apparently up in the air.
   That is the backdrop for Loomis:
   First Loomis (who helped lead Jeff Gordon to his fourth NASCAR championship, to establish his own credentials) thanked Kahne, who has been the team's anchor, though still winless since a pair of wins, at Sonoma and Atlanta, in the summer of 2009.  Kahne, during his six-plus years with the Evernham-Gillett-Petty operation, has been the heart of the team, with 11 tour wins and two runs in the championship playoffs. This season Kahne's bests have been seconds at Daytona and Michigan, fourths at Sonoma, Atlanta and California, and a fifth at Texas.
    (Menard's best finishes, a fifth at Atlanta, seventh at Dover, eighths at Charlotte and Kansas. Allmendinger's bests, a fourth at Watkins Glen, a sixth at Atlanta. Sadler's best, a ninth at Michigan.)
    Now Kahne will be the lead driver for Jay Frye's Toyota operation, beginning with Sunday's 500 here.
   "I really wish him well in his new deal," Loomis, always gracious, no matter what the furor, said
    Loomis concedes "the stir and speculation throughout the whole week" over the future of Richard Petty Motorsports has been a major distraction. There has been speculation that this might even be the last race for RPM, that engines and cars, leased, wouldn't be available from here on.
    Taking Kahne's ride is Aric Almirola, one of the new up-and-comers in this sport, who has been working on a break for some two years. Almirola is an aggressive and highly-motivated player who has certainly been deserving a top-notch ride to show his stuff. What he can do at this flat half-mile, though, is problematic, as tricky as this place is even for veterans. If he can keep the ride for a couple of weeks, his talents should become clearer.
    Loomis: "We're looking forward to continuing into 2011 and finishing this year up strong. 
    "I've heard a lot of things about our relationship with (Ford boss Jack) Roush....and Roush has been great to us.  They’ve been a great sponsor, a great provider, and work for us in a lot of different ways -- to help us from the engine shop side with Doug Yates has been amazing.
    "Robbie Reiser (Roush's shop boss), and the whole organization over there, has always done everything we've wanted.  They work really hard to provide good cars for us."
   In fact there has been the sense that many of the things Loomis and his men brought to this new Ford partnership have been key in the resurgence of the Ford brand in NASCAR. Early in the season, then-newcomer-to-Ford Kahne was clearly the hot stuff.
    However the Loomis-Petty teams didn't make the playoffs, while three of the Roush teams did.
   "That's up to us to get our program better," Loomis said.
   So, bottom line, what is the future for Richard Petty Motorsports?
    "I think it's our full intention to go forward," Loomis says.
    "Most of the things we've been working on throughout the week are 'What do we look like in 2011?  What's our driver lineup look like the rest of the year?'"
    So Loomis first has to calm his own guys down: "I told the guys at lunch 'Look, this is no different than running a race when you're a crew chief.
    "'I've been right here at Martinsville leading a race, and all of a sudden hit a pothole -- and you've got to figure out what to do, how to react, and move forward.'
    "That's what we're looking forward to do with Richard Petty Motorsports."
     Petty himself of course has a lot on his plate too, with wife Lynda's year-long battle with cancer.
     Petty is not yet here; Loomis says he's spending time with Lynda but should be here Sunday.
     Petty of course is not the boss of the team, even though it bears his name. Gillett is the majority owner.
     Judging Loomis' own confidence in what might happen next in all this isn't easy
     "There's been a lot of speculation about a lot of things," Loomis says. "But what gives me confidence is that we've always had the ability to move forward. 
     "I was thinking, riding up the road this morning with Dale Inman (the winningest crew chief in NASCAR history and Petty's cousin and long-time confidante), and I said 'You
can't look too far out in the future...because today is all that we really have.'"
    Almirola? He's signed with Dale Earnhardt Jr. to run Nationwide next season, which would seem to preclude him from anything more with RPM, Loomis said.
   "Aric is somebody we were looking at to drive for us next year...and the timing didn't work out," Loomis said.
    Thus Ambrose and Allmendinger appear the lead men for what is shaping up as two-team RPM for 2011....
    And Loomis says Max Jones, the Roush veteran who has been handling much of the technical side of the picture, "has been working really hard with the Roush crowd on plans for the future."
    But the economic foundation? The Gilletts?

   George Gillett, circa 2007 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

"The Gilletts, they've been through a lot," Loomis says. "They worked really hard to be a four-car team...and now we've got to look at what our teams are going to look like going into
next year."
    What about the rest of this year? All that speculation..
    "Yeah, we'll be at Talladega," Loomis says of next week's tour stop. "I hope we're all in Talladega. 
    "It's our full intention to keep rolling right along."
    However, the financials in all this? After all even Jeff Gordon still doesn't have a full-time sponsor for 2011...
    "I don't want to speculate on anything like that," Loomis said. 
    "There are a lot of people working collectively to make this thing more successful as we go forward.
    "Like Richard said when he came down (to the Concord, N.C., shop) on Thursday: 'Look guys, we're in the same business: We're trying to provide winning race cars and give them to AJ Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler and our drivers who are driving today. So the game hasn't changed."
     But perhaps we should look at the larger picture here -- the sport of NASCAR racing has, for whatever reasons, lost some of its luster among fans and viewers the past two years or so...and now the fate of the man who has for so many years personified this sport in the eyes of many Americans is suddenly up in the air.
     A NASCAR without Richard Petty?

  Foster Gillett (L), the boss' son and manager for RPM, at Watkins Glen in August, announcing signing AJ Allmendinger for 2011 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

I'm hoping Dodge or Toyota

I'm hoping Dodge or Toyota can buy out Richard, Robbie, and the teams and secure them into something where they can race and win.

don't know what dodge has to

don't know what dodge has to offer now; they had petty and couldnt get petty and penske on the same page. toyota, now that's an option, i sense.

MWR has room for two more

MWR has room for two more teams. Hum

i do know that toyota

i do know that toyota executives have wanted richard petty for a couple of years now....could be a move..

Mulhern, you led off with

Mulhern, you led off with Petty being missing at Martinsville, so why didn't you honestly report that Petty was at home with his wife who had fallen and broken her hip? Why try to make it look so mysterious or devious?

My opinion is that you along with several others really should be having some clue to how deep any planning for recovery must have to go to save RPM. A lot of unfounded mystery drama created by uninformed writers certainly can't help with the sponsors, other debtors, or even the teams themselves. Don't see a single reason that Robbie Loomis can't be the company spokesman at this point. Why is that a problem? Doesn't that give you writers a clue that there are no answers at this point. RPM has said, they simply don't know what is going to happen at this point, it's too soon after the Gillette collapse. Why is that a problem?

And NO, I don't like the Gillette types in our sport. We've all seen this scenario unfold before all to the detriment of our sport and our people. It's just that all this non-information, guessing, speculating, is just piling on when it isn't the time to do it. Crucify Gillette when the time comes and I'll join you, but, is now really the time? Making something out of nothing like with RP not being there yet this weekend when it was fairly well known where he was isn't the way.

didnt realize lynda had

didnt realize lynda had fallen....but when the big story of the day is about Richard Petty Motorsports, then i feel that Richard Petty should be there to address the situation. His name is on the team....and it's not a long ride up from level cross. dont agree with 'unfounded mystery drama.' gillett raised it all himself, with no-shows week after week, and that saudi prince thing, whatever that was. sure robbie can handle the spokesman role; he's solid at that. but he's not the owner, and he's not the guy with his name on the team. maybe there are no answers....but gillett and petty themselves should stand up and say that....non-information, guessing, speculating? give us george gillett and let us ask the questions and let him answer them.

Petty is nothing more than a

Petty is nothing more than a nameplate on this circus. He needs to either retire, get involved as more than a namesake with a different team, or do something else altogether. Petty Enterprises did not have the resources to be in the hunt, and if Richard is going to fasten his name to this or any other team, it needs to be one that does not struggle to finish in the Top 20.

it's a rather bizarre

it's a rather bizarre situation...dont really understand how ray evernham's dodge team morphed into this thing.....i agree resources weren't there.

I don't think any other sport

I don't think any other sport requires the owner to be at all of the games. Then again no one else is having the problems that are facing NASCAR. Does this mean that Richard Childress would have to be at every race too? Sorry, making attendance mandatory won't help the mess known as NASCAR.


i'm not worried about other

i'm not worried about other sports, only nascar. and maybe mandatory attendance wouldn't help....but then maybe it would -- it would show fans that these people care about the game, that it's not just another marketing venture. and why not tell the team owners to be at every race? is that such a hardship? their teams are there; why not the boss? i, for one, find it rather insulting that some of these team owners just show up whenever they want to. fans show up. why not team owners too?

Wouldn't it be ironic if

Wouldn't it be ironic if Petty went with Toyota/MWR?...Then Marcus Ambrose basically wouldn't have to leave at all...Well, sorta....lol

Maybe this is a harbinger of

Maybe this is a harbinger of things to come?Maybe the fan base is discouraged by all the secret rules?I think the BS with RCR is the last nail in the coffin for me! a sixteenth of an inch?Conduct detrimental to NASCAR?The drivers rivalry is only part of it.Americans are fatally brand loyal and the cookie cutter COT lost them by the thousands and all these front office rules will loose them thousands more.Here's an idea.Fold NASCAR up and put it in a box for a few weeks.Announce that the talladega race will be open to anybody with a car that can pass current safety and engine rules with a cubic inch limit of 300.LET THE GAMES BEGIN.Oh,by the way'no restrictor plates !!!!Or maybe NASCAR can form a partnership to keep IT going.I would think the WWF would be a good place to start.

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