RPM's hiring of Ford is likely first of several moves to come

FILE - This March 23, 2010 file photo shows NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, left, talking with crew chief Mike Ford during a testing session at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Richard Petty Motorsports has hired veteran crew chief Mike Ford to take over Aric Almirola's race team. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nobody thought Mike Ford would be out of work very long when Joe Gibbs Racing dismissed the crew chief in December after a disappointing 2011 season with Denny Hamlin.

Because JGR still owed him for the final year on his contract, Ford was in no rush to climb back atop a pit box. And if he had to spend the entire season sitting at home, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

But crew chiefs don’t sit idle for very long in NASCAR, and that was proved once again Monday when Richard Petty Motorsports pulled Ford back into the Sprint Cup garage. After just nine races, the team decided the pairing of Aric Almirola and crew chief Greg Erwin wasn’t a fit, and Ford was hired to take over the iconic No. 43 team.

“Mike Ford is an elite crew chief who knows what it takes to be a winner at this level,” team owner Richard Petty said. “We’re fortunate that he was available and that we could reach a deal to bring him over to our place. We’ve taken a lot of big steps at Richard Petty Motorsports in the past year, and I think this might be that one piece of the puzzle we were missing.”

It’s only a quarter of the way through the grueling NASCAR schedule, and maybe in a different era, slumping teams could still hope for a midseason turnaround.

Nobody has that luxury anymore, so when it becomes evident that something has to change in an effort to save the season, the crew chief is usually the first guy to go.

So it was Erwin to get the first hook of the 2012 season, and he didn’t even make it a year with the Petty organization.

It remains to be seen if Ford, who guided Hamlin to 17 victories and a spot in the Chase all six seasons they were paired together, can get Almirola into one of those coveted 12 spots. But RPM felt the team had to go for it, and the longer they waited, the harder it would be to make up ground.

It’s highly doubtful that RPM will be the only organization to make a change over the next few weeks. Every team sitting outside the top 15 in the standings right now – save for maybe the crews of Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne – have to be wondering if new blood is needed.

Nobody can stand pat for long, and RPM’s hiring of Ford showed that silly season has officially started.

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