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Sunday December 17th, 2017 10:24PM

Smithfield moving sponsorship from Petty to Stewart-Haas

By The Associated Press
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The NASCAR sponsorship landscape took another hit Tuesday when Smithfield Foods announced it will leave Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season to become a primary sponsor next year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The decision leaves Richard Petty's race team in need of a sponsor, Aric Almirola unsure where he will drive next season and put Stewart-Haas in a curious position. The team has sponsorship shortfalls on three of its four cars, and didn't reveal where Smithfield will be in the organization in 2018.

"Details of the agreement, including the driver who will be added to SHR's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lineup in 2018, will be provided at a later date," SHR said in a statement.

That means Smithfield could end up on the No. 10 Ford, currently driven by Danica Patrick, but her healthy lifestyle brand doesn't fit with the meat-processing company. Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch both need sponsorship on their cars, too.

"Smithfield has activated heavily and successfully within the sport, and we're honored to be a part of the brand's forward initiatives and strategy," SHR team President Brett Frood said. "Although we're not ready to announce the full details of the program, we look forward to this new endeavor while remaining focused on the upcoming playoffs and putting forth the best effort possible to win more races and contend for another championship."

Both Harvick and Busch will represent SHR in the 10-race playoffs that begin Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Patrick and Busch, the Daytona 500 winner, don't have deals with SHR for next season. Both drivers likely need sponsorship.

SHR could also take a different route outright: The team could pursue Almirola, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, or any other available driver to replace Patrick, Busch or both.

Almirola has had a solid relationship with Smithfield, which has been associated with Petty the last six years. RPM this year downsized to one Cup car because of sponsorship reasons, and talks on a contract extension with Almirola stalled when Smithfield began looking at other options.

Almirola was 20th in the standings when he broke his back in May. It caused him to miss seven races, and the team is currently 25th in the standings.

Petty, the Hall of Fame driver and seven-time NASCAR champion, is no longer the primary owner of his race team. Andrew Murstein of Medallion Financial Corp. is the majority owner of the team.

"The decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports and join Stewart-Haas Racing was difficult but we feel this move will improve our competitiveness on the track and strengthen our position as a leading consumer packaged goods company," Smithfield said in a statement.

___

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

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