Thanks in part to AJ Allmendinger's spot-on performances in qualifying this season, Richard Petty Motorsports is all but certain to get a breather when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Martinsville next week.

Barring a disaster of epic proportions Sunday at Bristol, all of RPM's cars will be locked into a Cup event for the first time in 73 races -- meaning that vice president of competition Mark McArdle won't have to agonise during qualifying for the March 29 Goody's Fast Relief 500.

All four Petty cars are comfortably in the top 35 in 2009 owner points, and all four are in the field for Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol. Through that race, the top 35 cars in season-ending 2008 owner points were guaranteed starting spots in Cup races. Henceforth, the current top 35 will determine which cars are locked into the field.

"Beginning in 2007 at that spring Martinsville race, the #10 car fell out of the top 35, and it's been a long two years," McArdle said. "It's not something you want to get good at (qualifying), but I guess we've had to."

Allmendinger has qualified on speed for each of the first five races; only he and Tony Stewart share that distinction - and Stewart had the safety net of a past champion's provisional starting spot to use as needed.

In the 2009 owners' standings, the #9 Dodge driven by Kasey Kahne is ninth, the #19 of Elliott Sadler is 17th, Allmendinger's #44 is 20th and the #43 of Reed Sorenson (which superseded the #10 after an offseason merger between Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Holdings) is 27th.

McArdle hopes the solid performances of the organisation will ease the search for additional sponsorship for Allmendinger, whose schedule has been extended for five races and now includes all events through the May 24 Coca-Cola 600 as well as the Coke Zero 400 in July.

"Hopefully, this says to (potential sponsors) that we've got our act together and we're worthy of consideration," McArdle said. "If we can keep the momentum going, keep some interest coming our way, hopefully we can continue to extend five races more at a time and patch together a full season for that #44.

"I think it's vital to the performance of the whole team."

For McArdle, the relief derived from having all four cars in the show is almost palpable.

"I used to be 6-4," he joked, "and I had a lot less gray hairs 73 races ago."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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