The Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team is heading to Sonoma sitting 24th in the points with two top 10s to date this season. And with the multiple challenges put in front of them coming into the season like a manufacturer switch (with a new body thrown in for good measure), a driver change, and aligning with a new technical partner, that’s exactly where it probably should be, according to crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.
“Like I said to our team in multiple meetings, our team probably has more upside than any team in the garage,” Blickensderfer told RACER. “We’re still selling sponsorship, and when we get that, that’s upside. We’ve got a new manufacturer we’re getting used to – when we get it figured out, upside. We’ve got a kid that can drive the heck out of a race car – when he figures it all out, huge upside.
“There’s a lot of things that we have a long way [to go] versus other people that are getting closer to being tapped out.”
It was Blickensderfer’s belief that Darrell Wallace Jr. and company would have more flashes of brilliance this season than they’ve had in the past, and as the summer approaches, Blickensderfer can point to examples. Finishing second in the Daytona 500. Leading six laps after legitimately driving to the top spot at Bristol.
But Blickensderfer also knew there would be the disappointments, like a missed shift and blown engine at Pocono Raceway.
As a reminder, the Petty organization switched from Ford to Chevrolet over the winter and also moved its campus from Mooresville to Welcome, North Carolina after joining forces with Richard Childress Racing.
“It’s completely different than what we had before,” Blickensderfer said of the alliance. “And not in a bad way, it’s just different. We expected a certain thing because we were associated with [Roush Fenway Racing] for so long, so when you’re associated with another company, they do business differently and you got to figure out how you mix into that. The first couple of months it was like, oh wow, is this what we’re going to do? Or is this not?
“I feel very comfortable with Justin [Alexander of the No. 3 team] and Luke [Lambert of the No. 31 team], with Ryan [Newman] and Austin [Dillon] and even Ty [Dillon] and those guys. I think they’re learning from us as much as we’re learning from them right now, so we’re providing to them some things that are helping their program as well as getting what we need from them.”
The current target for the season is a top-20 finish in points. To be a top-15 team, Blickensderfer says he and Wallace need to win a race – something he candidly admits he’s not sure that could happen aside from at “a couple” of places.
“Realistically we are a 17th, 18th, 19th-place team, and I think we can be there,” he said. “If it wasn’t for blowing a motor, we easily could have gained three or four spots in points; we’re right there on the cusp of leapfrogging quite a few guys.”
“We want to be able to race with the 19 [Daniel Suarez] weekly, the 21 [Paul Menard]. That group of guys are who we race with on speed. We just have to make sure we finish with that group, and I think we can.”
Richard Petty Motorsports last finished in the top 20 in points in 2015.