RPM's 'zero tolerance' led to Parrott's dismissal
October 22, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As far as Richard Petty was concerned, there was no other choice.
"Circumstances beyond our control," the seven-time NASCAR champion said Tuesday, addressing the dismissal of Todd Parrott, former crew chief on the No. 43 car of Richard Petty Motorsports. "So it was just an automatic. When he did what he did, he'd done his own thing. All we did was say, this is the way it's got to be."
Winner of the 1999 premier-series championship with driver Dale Jarrett, Parrott was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Thursday for an undisclosed violation of the sanctioning body's substance abuse policy. Team operations director Sammy Johns worked as Aric Almirola's crew chief at Talladega Superspeedway, and RPM announced Tuesday that former car chief Greg Ebert will fill that role on an interim basis for the remainder of the season.
Dating back to the Petty Enterprises days, the Pettys have long been straight-arrow race team owners, even eschewing alcohol sponsorship on the organization's flagship No. 43 car out of personal belief. In that light, Parrott's dismissal came as no surprise, even though the crew chief was in his second stint with the team dating back to his first season there with Bobby Labonte in 2006.
"It's definitely zero tolerance," said Petty, who co-owns RPM with New York entrepreneur Andrew Murstein. "These guys (in the car) are putting their lives on the line. These guys on pit road, they're putting their life on the line. A hundred percent isn’t good enough. So if anybody sort of breaks the rule, there's no room in our organization for that."
Almirola was the fastest in opening practice at Talladega, turning a speed of 202 mph in a car prepared by Parrott, and starting from the pole when time trials were canceled due to rain. He said he reached out to his former crew chief after the organization made the decision to let him go.
"I just reached out to him and told him I supported him, and I just wanted him to get better and get back on track," said Almirola, who finished 22nd on Sunday. "I don’t know what else to say to the guy. I've said it over and over, and I’ll still say it -- this isn’t a character flaw or anything. He's still a good person. He's still a good crew chief. But he made a mistake, and now he's got to bounce back from it."
Before they can be eligible for reinstatement, violators of NASCAR's substance abuse policy must go through a Road to Recovery program specifically tailored to their offense. AJ Allmendinger did just that after his suspension and eventual release last year from Penske Racing for what the driver said was Adderall use. Allmendinger returned to win two NASCAR Nationwide Series races this year for Penske, and has signed to drive the No. 47 car of JTG Daugherty Racing at the Sprint Cup level next season.
Speaking Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame at an unveiling of a No. 41 tribute car to brother and 2014 inductee Maurice Petty -- a vehicle Almirola will drive this weekend at Martinsville Speedway -- Richard Petty said his reaction to Parrott's suspension was "really shock. I'd never been around him enough to see any changes or any of that kind of stuff. From the parts and stuff I'd seen him around the shop and around the race track, I didn't see anything going on. But I'm not an expert on that kind of stuff, anyway."
Ebert has worked as car chief on the No. 43 the past two seasons, and has been a car chief at RPM since the organization was restructured under its current name in 2009. Prior to that he spent nine years at Roush Fenway Racing, the last five of those as car chief to Matt Kenseth.
"I think it's going to be pretty seamless," Almirola said. "Greg's been obviously around the car a lot. He's been up to speed with a lot of our setup stuff that’s evolved throughout the year being the car chief. Besides the engineers, he's the one guy that's the most hands-on with the cars with all the setup stuff that’s going in the cars. All the guys on the team obviously respect him a lot. He's obviously in a leadership role already, so I think it was natural to move him up to a crew chief."
Parrott is a 31-time race winner on NASCAR's top level, including road course victories with RPM driver Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen in 2011 and 2012. Almirola is trying to return the No. 43 car to Victory Lane for the first time since John Andretti won at Martinsville in 1999. This weekend, he'll try it with a different car number -- and a different crew chief as well.
"It's going to be tough, but things change. I figured that out real quick when I moved to North Carolina and joined this sport," he said. "Things change all the time, and you have to be willing to adapt and be ready to carry on. That’s what we're going to do. We have a really good race team. We have a lot of people, and our race team is not defined by one person. There's a lot of great people at our race team. It's going to force everyone to step up for the time being, and we're going to see what Greg Ebert can do on top of the box. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a challenge for all of us. But I think we're up to it."