The two big unknowns about the pending merger between Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing can be summed up in two words: "When?" and "If".

The two sides have executed a letter of intent and are working toward finalising the deal. The new organisation will continue under the Richard Petty Motorsports name and will switch from Dodge to Ford next season.

According to a joint release two weeks ago at Richmond, the team's line-up will include current RPM drivers Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler and AJ Allmendinger as well as Yates driver Paul Menard.

Team co-owner Richard Petty estimated Sept. 12 at Richmond that the deal could be concluded within two weeks, but that projection now appears optimistic, as the parties are still ironing out the details.

Menard is a key element, in that he brings with him sponsorship from Menards, the Midwestern home improvement chain founded and owned by his father, John Menard. Though Paul Menard affirmed his commitment to the deal Friday at Dover International Speedway, his assessment of the merger was frequently qualified by the word "if."

"We don't know a whole lot about it right now," said Menard, who found out about the merger the week of the announcement, as did the RPM drivers. "I know the people that matter in the two teams are talking. I'm not, obviously, involved in any of the discussions, but I think, if it all comes together, it will be a good thing for both teams.

"There's a lot that both teams can bring to the table in development of chassis and engines and everything, so if it works out, it'll be good. ... They're in the Chase (with Kahne), and them coming to the Ford camp, there's a good starting spot, I think, between all the teams - with all the four teams working together, we can improve everybody."

NASCAR's silly season has begun in earnest, and there are plenty of question marks in the Sprint Cup garage beyond the RPM-Yates merger. Richard Childress Racing announced earlier this week the loss of its primary sponsor, Jack Daniel's, for the #07 car driven by Casey Mears, giving rise to speculation that Menard, with his sponsorship, might be a good fit for that ride next season.

Asked whether he wanted to be a part of the RPM/Yates deal, however, Menard responded with an unequivocal "Yes."

"I haven't heard anything that would make me be uncommitted to them," he said Friday after qualifying tenth for Sunday's AAA 400, "but if something happens, then, obviously, something happens. But I think everything's looking really strong right now for their future with RPM, and with Yates Racing and everybody in the Ford camp."

RPM spokesperson Drew Brown said the principals from his organiaation would have no comment on the status of the deal while matters are still in process.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News