Aric Almirola, No. 43 On a Hot Streak Going Into Tough Ol’ Darlington

To date, Aric Almirola is having a very productive season with Richard Petty Motorsports. He goes into Darlington with four consecutive top-10 finishes, tops among all competitors.

DARLINGTON, S.C. – There was a time when a blue No. 43 car was one of the most successful, and popular, in NASCAR.

The car was perhaps the most familiar in NASCAR. From the early 1960s through 1992 – when the blue paint scheme was trimmed in red – every stock car racing fan recognized the car immediately.

And, I might add, its driver as well.

Richard Petty, a seven-time champion, has always been associated with the No. 43 – which has become symbolic of his illustrious career.

However, after Petty retired in 1992, the glory that was the No. 43 car began to fade – badly.

The venerated Petty Enterprises organization became a shell of itself. Unlike how it was during Petty’s prime, the team went season after season without a victory.

The last time it won was with John Andretti – one of an assortment of drivers employed over the years – in 1999.

Petty Enterprises ceased to exist after the 2008 season. It was 60 years old.

But Petty the man has never gone away. And today – after many financial struggles and organizational realignments – there exists Richard Petty Motorsports.

And it fields a blue No. 43 car.

Don’t look now, but it appears that No. 43 car has shown at least a flicker of what it used to be.

In 2013 the car has become more competitive than it has in years. And its driver, Aric Almirola, can claim a share of the credit.

Coming into the Southern 500 at Darlington, Almirola and the No. 43 have posted four top-10 finishes in a row.

That hasn’t happened before in the one and one-half seasons Almirola has driven for Petty – not even close.

Presently Almirola is seventh in points. He has never been higher. Fact is, his best effort was 20th in 2012.

Fans have taken notice. And for some of the veterans who cheered Petty during his prime, perhaps there are stirs of hope that, at the very least, the No. 43 will return to respectability.

Almirola said he’s not surprised over the team’s surge in performance.

Almirola, shown here with team owner Richard Petty (left) and entertainer Mario Lopez, hooked up with Petty toward the end of the 2010 season and came back full-time in 2012.

“We sure are on a roll lately,” Almirola said. “I think we are the only people that aren’t surprised we are seventh in points and have the longest current top-10 streak in the series.

“Todd (Parrott, crew chief), the guys and I are really clicking.”

Almirola, 29, has had something of a topsy-turvy NASCAR career. He broke into Sprint Cup competition in 2007 with Joe Gibbs Racing, for which he drove in six races.

In 2008, he competed in 12 races with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and the next season, he entered nine races for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

He was still a part-timer in 2010. He split time with James Finch and Richard Petty Motorsports, which he joined late in the season.

Almirola did not compete on the Sprint Cup circuit in 2011. Instead he raced on a full Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports.

During his fractured career from 2007-2010, Almirola earned just two top-10 finishes.

But in 2011, with JR Motorsports, he earned 18 top-10 finishes – seven in the top five – and finished a healthy fourth in Nationwide Series points.

That was enough for Richard Petty Motorsports to bring him back in 2012.

And it is paying off.

A year ago, Almirola, who has two victories on the Camping World Truck Series, finished among the top 10 four times and earned his first career Sprint Cup pole position at Charlotte in May.

It has gotten better.

In the 10 races to date in 2013, Almirola earned his consecutive top-10 runs at Texas (seventh), Kansas (ninth), Richmond (eighth) and Talladega (10th).

“We worked hard over the off-season to maintain our momentum that we had going in 2012 and it worked,” Almirola said. “We just need to keep it up and start moving to top-fives and hopefully a win soon.”

If Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports stay hot past Darlington, it will be a noteworthy accomplishment.

The tough, old track has a way of dousing momentum and breaking hearts.

Almirola made his Darlington debut with the No. 43 last year. He started 13th and finished 19th. He has two Nationwide starts at the track and one in trucks.

“Last year, I felt like I learned a lot during the race and got into a good rhythm by the end,” Almirola said. “We had a decent finish for my first time out and only a few ‘Darlington stripes.’”

Almirola said he would rely on Parrott, a seasoned crew chief with a lot of Darlington experience, to help him have a competitive run.

“Darlington is a long race from daylight to night, so it’s really important to keep up with the track changes and make the right adjustments,” Parrott said. “Our team’s relationship is stronger than ever, which is important here.

“It will be key to have good communication from Aric about what the car is doing, so we can stay ahead of the track with changes.”

If Almirola earns yet another top-10 finish at Darlington, considered NASCAR’s toughest track, even more attention will befall the No. 43 team.

But Almirola is looking for even better things.

“Obviously, our goal is to get another top-10 finish, but we are really eyeing victory lane,” Almirola said. “I think if we can put ourselves in a good position during the majority of the race, we can have a good shot at getting the 43 its first win since 1999.”




In Support Of Aric Almirola And The Venerated No. 43 Car

Aric Almirola won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, which is an indication his union with Richard Petty Motorsports may be producing good results.

Little is more satisfying for a longtime NASCAR fan than seeing the No. 43 car run well in a Sprint Cup race.

Although not piloted by “The King,” Richard Petty, any longer, it is still a car in the Richard Petty Motorsports stable.

As one who follows NASCAR history, it gives me great pleasure to watch Aric Almirola drive the storied No. 43 and get good finishes with it.

Almirola began his career as an eight-year-old in go-karts. Within six years his career went national in the World Karting Association. In that series Almirola won the pole in his debut and finished fourth in points in 1998.

By 2000 Almirola was running in Modifieds. He earned several rookie of the year titles.

In 2002 Almirola started his NASCAR career in the Sun Belt Weekly Racing Division and made quite a splash there for two years with five poles in 2003.

Almirola caused a sensation as one of the first to enter NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity campaign. His Cuban background earned him the nickname “The Cuban Missile” in the competition.

Stints with Joe Gibbs Racing, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., Phoenix Racing and JR Motorsports led to his employment at RPM and the opportunity to drive historic No. 43.

Once Petty climbed out of the No. 43 in 1992, after his wildly popular Fan Appreciation Tour, the car number continued to exist in NASCAR.

At first the No. 43 was re-numbered No. 44 with Rick Wilson driving, but he saw no success. In 1995 Bobby Hamilton was seated in the car that had returned to the No. 43.

The next season Hamilton earned the first victory in the No. 43 since July of 1984 at Daytona International Speedway. Hamilton found Victory Lane again in 1997 at Rockingham.

Hamilton exited gracefully to start his own team in what is now the Camping World Truck Series, which left the No. 43 vacant for a short while.

John Andretti occupied the cockpit next, in 1998, and won at Martinsville. Unfortunately, that was the last win for the No. 43. Andretti and Petty parted ways in 2003.

Christian Fittapaldi tried his hand in the No. 43 but made no magic. Andretti returned to race at a few venues but finishes were disappointing.

Almirola served as a "backup" driver for a few top teams before he got the opportunity to join RPM this year and drive the venerated No. 43 car.

Jeff Green was brought in from 2004-2005. Again, the driver and team had lackluster seasons.

A new era began in 2006 when former Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte joined the team with former Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Robbie Loomis. But what held much promise provided few positive results and Labonte left the team at the end of 2008. The No. 43 was vacant once again.

A merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports in 2009 was another chapter for the No. 43. Reed Sorensen had a short stint with that ride but parted ways at the end of the season.

A.J. Allmendinger was the next shoe to drive the No. 43. He did so in 2010 and 2011 and had a great outing in 2011, finishing 15th in points and nearly making the Chase. Alas, Allmendinger left RPM for Penske Racing.

In 2010 Almirola spent much of the season being an “on standby” driver for the Hendrick stable, especially Jimmie Johnson, who was expecting the birth of his first child.

Almirola did the same for Jeff Gordon in July 2010 for the same reason, awaiting the arrival of Gordon’s son. Scott Speed’s team asked for Almirola to be on standby as Speed was sick for the race at Loudon. None of these standby slots were ever activated.

Finally Almirola was used to drive the car at Martinsville after Kasey Kahne, who left RPM in the fall of 2010, vacated it. By the final race of the year, at Homestead, Almirola earned a top-five finish.

This certainly encouraged RPM, which never forgot Almirola.

Almirola spent 2011 driving the No. 88 Nationwide Series car for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports. At the end of that season Almirola was released from his contract so he could accept one from RPM for 2012.

This season, Almirola has performed decently. He has one pole to his credit, which came at Charlotte for the Coca Cola 600, and two top-10 finishes.

His eighth place at Martinsville and a sixth-place finish at Dover are examples of Almirola’s consistency and determination.

In my lifetime, I don’t believe I will see anyone eclipse “King Richard’s” statistics in the No. 43 car, but I love seeing it out there, week in and week out, trying to find Victory Lane.

As I’ve said before, I do not believe driver numbers should be retired, so that the No. 43 is still in competition does my heart good.

If Almirola consistently ups his game and gathers top-10s – that could one day improve to top-fives and eventually wins – that would be tremendous.

I am looking for Almirola to have a banner race at Pocono this weekend because he has crew chief Mike Ford in his ear. Ford, you may recall, was on the box when Denny Hamlin dominated and swept both races at Pocono in 2006.

I admit it. I’m rooting for Almirola and the No. 43 car. How about you?







2012 Season Is A Challenge For Almirola, RPM

By signing on with Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola has gotten a second chance at a NASCAR Cup career. But he and RPM face many challenges in 2012 and will almost certainly endure a great deal of scrutiny as Almirola pilots the legendary No. 43 car.

Welcome back, Aric Almirola. Good luck. You are going to need it. More on that later.

Almirola has been named to drive the venerable No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, replacing the departed A.J. Allmendinger, who has moved over to Penske Racing in place of Kurt Busch.

The choice of Almirola raised a few eyebrows because it was widely thought – and rumored – that David Ragan would get the ride.

Due to a lack of sponsorship at Roush Fenway Racing – primary backer UPS switched to an associate for Carl Edwards – the organization was reduced to three teams from four. Ragan was the odd man out and was given his release to look for work elsewhere.

Word quickly spread that Ragan wouldn’t be out of a job for very long. He seemed the logical choice to replace Busch at Penske.

That didn’t happen, so the assumption was he’d end up at Petty. Nope.

It was then assumed Ragan would return to the Nationwide Series ranks with JR Motorsports, but Cole Whitt was awarded that ride.

It would appear that Ragan hasn’t had a good offseason.

But Almirola has. With the Petty ride, he returns to Cup competition with another chance to find success and establish a career.

Almirola has made 35 Cup starts from 2007-2010. He has only one top-five finish and two among the top 10.

Ragan, on the other hand, has 182 starts in Cup competition. His lone career win came at Daytona last July and he has 11 more top-fives and 30 runs among the top 10.

But Ragan has also had his struggles and evidently Roush Fenway considered him expendable.

That he wasn’t hired at either Penske or Petty may indicate the situation was one based upon potential rather than performance – especially at RPM.

I wouldn’t think compensation played a significant role. My guess is that either Ragan or Almirola would have come relatively cheap.

Obviously, RPM thinks Almirola has great potential. Team owner Andy Murstein divulged as much, noting that the Cuban-American driver finished fourth at Homestead in a Petty car and, in 2010, finished fourth in points in the Nationwide Series, driving the No. 88 JR Motorsports entry.

“Rather than take an existing Sprint Cup driver, it’s great to be able to take and up-and-comer from the Nationwide Series and give him an opportunity to prove himself at the highest level of the sport,” Murstein said.

Which pretty much explains everything.

Almirola’s crew chief will be Greg Erwin, who joined RPM before the Brickyard 400 last year. Murstein said he believed Almirola and Erwin would share “good chemistry.”

That will help, but Almirola still faces a daunting challenge in that, for all intents and purposes, he’s a rookie Cup driver competing with a non-elite team that has sponsorship concerns.

It was Murstein and business partner Doug Bergeron who purchased RPM last winter and rescued it from oblivion.

Afterward, RPM had, perhaps, its best overall season. Marcos Ambrose won at Watkins Glen in August and Allmendinger, like Ambrose an affable sort whose image proved beneficial to the team, finished 15th in points and narrowly missed the Chase – the best overall performance ever for RPM’s No. 43 car.

But sponsorship concerns remain. It had to be a hard hit to the gut for RPM to lose the Best Buy backing to Roush Fenway.

Stanley will continue to offer full-time support for Ambrose, but it appears, for now anyway, that the Air Force and Smithfield Foods will provide limited backing for Almirola.

Nevertheless, Murstein is optimistic. He praised his team’s overall performance in 2010, as it rose from near-extinction to put two drivers in the top 20 and earn a victory.

Naturally, Almirola is optimistic. He realizes he has another crack at Cup competition, his first on a full-time basis. He intends to make the most of it.

Make no mistake, he’ll get plenty of scrutiny. After all, he’ll be driving the iconic No. 43.

The Almirola-RPM union is indeed one of potential. But, as we all know, “potential” does not translate as “will be.” It translates as “could be.”

Which is why it is only fitting to say to Almirola: “Good luck.”

And good luck to you, too, Mr. Ragan.


Aric Almirola Gets His Shot, 14 Year Old Pietro Fittipaldi Impresses in Stock Cars

Aric Almirola has fought his way back into Sprint Cup by landing a top ride with Richard Petty Motorsports. The Cuban-American never gave up and now it’s his time to shine. 14 year year old Pietro Fittipaldi won the track title at Hickory Motor Speedway. It was his first full year in a full size car…watch this kid. Beaux Barfield named as Race Director for IndyCar

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