Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team scored their first Top-Five of the 2015 season. The team has showed consistency all season posting eight Top-15 and 12 Top-20 finishes in the first 13 races. Sunday was the breakthrough the Smithfield team was looking for. A call for four-tires leading into a green-white-checkered finish and aggressive driving by Almirola in the final two laps earned the No. 43 team a fifth-place finish. The finish marks Almirola's sixth Top-Five finish in the Sprint Cup Series. It also moved him up two spots in the Championship Point Standings to the 10th spot.
Almirola started the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks from the 23rd position. The No. 43 Smithfield Ford was tight to start and fell back to 25th. Almirola lost a lap to the leader but drove into the 21st spot when the first yellow flag waved on Lap 75 with the team in the "Lucky Dog" position. Crew Chief Trent Owens called for a four-tire pit stop with a wedge adjustment. The changes helped the balance of the car. Almirola raced lapped traffic as he tried to catch lead-lap cars before green-flag pit stops began.
By Lap 150, the field began a sequence of green-flag pit stops. The No. 43 team came down pit road on Lap 158 for four tires and an air pressure adjustment. When green-flag stops cycled through Almirola was 22nd, one lap down. Two quick cautions gave the Smithfield team the "Lucky Dog" spot again for the Lap 176 caution. The team changed four tires and restarted on the lead lap in 22nd.
Again starting at the tail end of the field, Almirola had to work his way through lapped traffic before catching lead lap cars. He drove into the 21st position before another round of green-flag pit stops started on Lap 247. The Smithfield team made another four-tire pit stop and returned to the track in 21st. Almirola drove into the 20th position when the yellow flag came out on Lap 262. Owens called for an air pressure adjustment during the four-tire pit stop.
Almirola restarted 20th on Lap 268 and showed the power of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford. He drove into the 13th position by Lap 324. The team made another pit stop on Lap 327 for four tires. By the caution on Lap 377, Almirola broke into the Top-10. The Smithfield team changed four tires and Almirola restarted 10th. He drove into the eighth spot when the field slowed for an accident on the backstretch. The team elected to stay out. Another accident allowed the team to change four tires and set up the green-white-checkered finish.
Almirola restarted 10th and picked up four spots on the first lap. He passed another car during the final lap and brought home the team's first Top-Five finish of the season when he crossed the line in fifth. He jumped up two spots in the Championship Point Standings to 10th. The team is now 14th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings with 13 races remaining before the Chase begins in Chicago.
"I earned my money today that is for sure," said Almirola. "This Smithfield Ford Fusion was tight early. Trent Owens and the guys made really good adjustments on the car and got it better and better. Finally, we weren't the lucky dog, we raced and stayed on the lead lap, and when the caution came out, we got a chance to restart with the leaders. That was the big break for us. Every time we would get the lucky dog, I had to start dead last and 30-40-50 laps the leaders were right back on me."
"It was a great day for us, a really good points day for us," Almirola continued. "I am proud of Trent and all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports. They have been working their guts out trying to bring better cars to the race track week in and week out. We have to get better qualifying. That is our Achilles heel right now. We start too deep in the field every week. All in all, it was a good day for us, and I am ready to go to Pocono."
Sam Hornish Jr., No. 9 Twisted Tea Ford Team
Hornish started the 400-lap race from the 28th position and immediately raced to the 23rd spot. The race remained caution-free for the first 75 laps, and unfortunately, the No. 9 Ford fell a lap down to the leaders. Hornish missed being in the "Lucky Dog" spot by one lap as the leader passed the 43 when debris brought out the first caution. He was running in the 23rd position, one spot behind his teammate. Crew Chief Kevin Manion called for chassis adjustments on the four-tire stop to help with the handling of the Twisted Tea Ford. Hornish restarted 25th on Lap 80.
After the restart, Hornish was in a close race for the "Lucky Dog" spot with the No. 88 and the No. 33. Another long, green-flag run brought Hornish down pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 154. The Twisted Tea crew made more chassis adjustments on the four-tire stop, but a failure with the jack caused a lengthy stop. Hornish fell a second lap down.
Shortly after the green-flag stop, an accident in Turn One brought out the caution on Lap 164. Hornish reported the adjustments seemed to help as the Twisted Tea Ford started out freer at the beginning of the run. Not eligible for the wavearound, Hornish brought the No. 9 Ford to pit road for four tires and fuel. He restarted 29th on Lap 169.
More green-flag racing brought on another set of green-flag pit stops. In hopes of gaining back a lap, Manion kept Hornish on the track as long as possible before calling him to pit road on Lap 354 for four tires and adjustments. Once again, the adjustments helped the Twisted Tea Ford and Hornish was running some of his best lap times of the race. An accident on Lap 377 brought out the caution. Manion called Hornish to pit road for four tires and fuel and Hornish restarted 26th with 16 laps to go.
Multi-car accidents brought out the caution twice in the final laps, each time Hornish did a great job to avoid any contact. He restarted 22nd for a green-white-checkered finish and maintained that position to take the checkered flag. The Top-25 finish moved Hornish up one spot in the Championship Point Standings to 25th
"We need better luck," said Hornish. "We had a pretty good Twisted Tea Ford and luck was just not on our side. The handling started off a little tight in the center, but Bono and the crew did a good job making the car better throughout the race. With all of the long, green-flag runs and the cautions not falling where we needed them too, there just wasn't much we could do to improve our position. Everyone is working hard, we're getting better and I'm confident that it will come together."