|NAME: Aric Almirola||CAR OWNER: Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron/Richard Petty|
|SPONSOR: Smithfield Foods||CREW CHIEF: Todd Parrott|
|CAR #: 43||MANUFACTURER: Ford|
Aric Almirola is no new face around the NASCAR garage. The Florida-born Cuban-American made his first Sprint Cup start over five years ago, but for Almirola, the NASCAR time spent climbing up the ladder has long been on the back of sporadic rides and opportunities that didn’t quite pan out. Even a lone Nationwide Series win in 2007 at Milwaukee rang hollow, as he wasn’t the driver who finished the event.
Almirola finally got his big chance in 2012, completing, for the first time, a full Sprint Cup schedule in Richard Petty Motorsports’ famed No. 43. Remarkably, it was only the fourth full season of competition for Almirola in a national NASCAR touring division; only 28, he’s bounced around more than some drivers do in an entire career.
Almirola’s 2012 results were mediocre — 20th in points — but despite that, he was rewarded with a one-year extension. His return to the No. 43 Ford at RPM for this year wasn’t announced until the final weekend of the 2012 season, and it comes on the heels of a year chock full of changing crew chiefs and future uncertainty within a team that’s a long way from the top rungs of the Cup Series.
Almirola had three different voices in his ear in 2012, and the season eventually ended with Todd Parrott working the No. 43 pit box. It was a pairing that seemed to work, as Almirola led nearly 70 laps at Kansas in October and would have had two top 5-finishes in the last four races had the season finale at Homestead been one lap shorter.
It was enough to leave Almirola, already boosted by the contract extension, all smiles in preparation for Daytona and beyond. “We went through some changes (in 2012), but since being paired with Todd (Parrott) and this crew, I’ve had the most fun I’ve had in a Cup car,” he says.
Can the duo carry momentum into 2013? Almirola’s No. 43, again backed by Smithfield Foods, will keep Ford engines under the hood, but all is not roses. Due to Penske Racing’s switch to Ford from Dodge, simple math says RPM won’t get the same manufacturer attention it has in the past. And for an organization that has struggled to keep up with the Joneses, a further splintering of Ford Racing’s resources may only widen the chasm between the big boys at the table and those receiving Roush Fenway’s scraps.
Almirola, though, has proven to be a smooth driver, failing to finish only 18 percent of all of his NASCAR starts, oftentimes while in equipment that was outmatched by the powerhouse teams. Playing the cards right — most likely at 1.5-mile tracks, where teammate Marcos Ambrose has also come close to Victory Lane, or at Martinsville, where he seems to have a knack for the track — could put Almirola in line for a win this year. Being consistent enough to make a play for Chase consideration is too much of a stretch, though.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
“Almirola is, personality-wise, a great guy and as a race car driver he is a bit underrated,” one crew chief says. “He’s had some good runs and done some great things, I just don’t think he's been in the right situation yet. He’s in that 43 car, and Richard Petty Motorsports is going to do everything they can to make that car succeed, I just don’t know if they have everything in place over there to do that.”
One NASCAR media member mirrors those sentiments, noting that, “Almirola could surprise this season. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a Chase contender just yet, but experience in the Cup Series will find him posting improved numbers. The issue that he has no control over is the equipment. RPM is shuffling guys around over there to help the 43 car, but personnel moves will only help so much. They need to find more speed.”
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