CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Richard Petty Motorsports on Wednesday announced a three-year contract extension with Smithfield Foods Inc. as primary sponsor for Aric Almirola for 29 races through the 2016 season.
RPM also signed Almirola to a three-year extension to mirror the deal with Smithfield.
Smithfield started as a part-time primary sponsor for the No. 43 Ford in 2012, Almirola's first full season with RPM.
''We basically had our rookie season together in Sprint Cup in 2012, and we've grown,'' Almirola said. ''As much as I've grown as a driver, they've grown as a sponsor. We've just continued to grow that partnership and that relationship to now, and this increased investment in the commitment that they're showing to the race team and to me is going to be really, really substantial for us in our performance on the racetrack, as well.''
The increased involvement from Smithfield has the company signed on for all but seven races of the 38-race schedule - a coup for RPM at a time when sponsorships are often being divided between multiple companies.
Smithfield Fields, the world's largest pork producer, was sold to Chinese company Shuanghui International Holdings in a deal finalized in September. Larry Pope remained CEO of Smithfield and has authority over marketing resources.
Pope, who brought Shuanghui executives to the Sprint Cup race at Richmond in September, chose to make the marketing spend with RPM. It's the biggest program in the company whose brands include Eckrich, Armour, and Farmland.
''I believe it is the right way to communicate to our consumers,'' Pope said. ''My new owners have no issue with this at all and are 100 percent supportive. They were overwhelmed by the fans and the people and the activity, and they didn't realize the attraction and the connection between racing and the brand.''
Pope said the company has seen double-digit increases in sales in areas where it runs promotions connected with the RPM and Almirola sponsorship.
''Whether Aric shows up in Victory Lane or not, the sales activation we've been trying to do is working, and we've seen sales lifts that are certainly double digits and sometimes triple digits associated with (the) program,'' Pope said. ''The combination of what we're doing with the retailers and the public appearances, Aric and Richard do a fantastic job off track, so there's no issues. That's the big success story.''
Almirola finished 18th in the Sprint Cup Series last season. He was ranked in the top 12 through the first 13 races.
''What I want is Aric to be is the subject of conversation on track,'' Pope said. ''I want a lot of chatter, and the way you do that is to be up front and contending to be up front and being in the mix. So we're giving him the ability to have the extra 1 percent, and that's going to add a whole new dimension to that.''