The Richard Petty Motorsports team, who fielded two cars in 2014 with drivers Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose, entered the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season looking to have their best seasons yet.
Since joining the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on a full-time basis in 2012, Almirola had his best season by far in 2014, earning one victory, two top-five and seven top-10 finishes. It doesn’t sound like much, but given his previous performances, it ended up being much better for the 30-year-old driver.
Despite having his best season, Almirola had many issues to deal with all year long, including five DNF’s that resulted in finishes 35th or worse. These, along with other bad runs throughout the year, made it very difficult to find any confidence for the No. 43 team. Going into the 2015 season, the next step for them should be improving their consistency.
With the bad parts of the season out of the way, Almirola and the crew found a rainbow in the middle portion of the season in the Coke Zero 400 at the Daytona International Speedway in July. After leading 14 total laps, and with the rain falling to officially end the race, Almirola scored his very first Sprint Cup Series victory to earn a spot into the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time of his career.
After making the Chase, Almirola got off to a very slow start in the opener at the Chicagoland Speedway when his engine expired with 37 laps remaining to bring home a finish of 41st. With a sixth-place finish the following week, and a 28th at Dover, Almirola’s chances of scoring the 2014 championship went out the window.
After a bad season in 2013 by earning only six top-10 finishes, Ambrose entered the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season hoping to get back on track. Despite having three top-five and seven top-10’s, marking his best year since 2011, it still wasn’t good enough for his standards.
With the announcement of the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format prior to the season opener at the Daytona International Speedway, Ambrose knew which of the two tracks to circle on his calendar, Sonoma and Watkins Glen. After qualifying 23rd at Sonoma, Ambrose led five of the 110 laps but had to settle for an eighth-place finish. At the Watkins Glen International, a track where the 37-year-old captured both his Sprint Cup Series wins, Ambrose started the 90-lap event in the runner-up spot. Despite the fantastic starting spot, in a heavy battle in the closing laps, Ambrose wasn’t able to pass AJ Allmendinger for the victory and had to settle for second. This would kill Ambrose chances to make the Chase and his season altogether.
While just riding out the remainder of the season, Ambrose announced that he would not return to NASCAR, and that he would go back to Australia to race V8 Supercars with a team owned by Dick Johnson and Roger Penske. This meant that Richard Petty Motorsports would have to find another driver to replace him.
After being absent in the Sprint Cup Series and seeking a ride in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the Richard Petty Motorsports organization announced that Sam Hornish Jr. will replace Ambrose behind the wheel of the No. 9 Ford in 2015 on Oct. 8.
With Hornish coming back into the Sprint Cup Series, 2015 will be a very interesting one for Richard Petty Motorsports as a whole. With Almirola having his best season in 2014, I think the team will have a breakout season. The small team may not have a winning season, but I definitely see them having a stellar year with a bunch of top-five and top-10 finishes.