In a bit of unusual timing, Richard Petty Motorsports hired former Denny Hamlin crew chief Mike Ford on Monday to head its No. 43 team, nine races after the season already began.
The timing is odd because though driver Aric Almirola is 23rd in points and has just one top-10 finish, the expectations for the young driver couldn't have realistically been much better than that. So it's surprising to see crew chief Greg Erwin – who formerly guided Greg Biffle – get the boot so quickly.
It would be one thing if Almirola was well behind teammate Marcos Ambrose in the point standings, but Ambrose is 22nd in points – just one spot ahead in the standings – and doesn't have any top-10 finishes. And certainly the expectations for Ambrose had to be much higher than for Almirola's No. 43 team.
Because of those numbers, Petty's move at this point figures to be more about Ford's availability than Erwin and Almirola's performance together – though admittedly, that's pure speculation.
This is how Richard Petty Motorsports' press release began: "Richard Petty Motorsports asserted its commitment to winning with the hiring of Chase-proven Mike Ford as crew chief for the No. 43 team and driver Aric Almirola."
In addition, Petty was quoted as saying this: "We're fortunate that he was available and that we could reach a deal to bring him over to our place."
Maybe RPM wanted to get Ford all along, and the crew chief finally got tired of sitting at home and holding out for a better offer. It certainly was surprising no team picked up Ford in the offseason after Joe Gibbs Racing fired him in December, especially since the guy fielded a car that almost won the championship two seasons ago.
Ford will be on top of Almirola's pit box immediately, beginning at Talladega. But expectations for Almirola shouldn't change overnight; if Ford does make a difference, it will likely won't happen right away.
But Ford's long-term impact on RPM will be significant, because he can bring ideas and information to not only the No. 43 team, but to Ambrose's No. 9 team and to Ford – the manufacturer, not the crew chief – as a whole.