As the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season came to a close this past Sunday night in Homestead, Florida, Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) ended a season that showed progress on the track.
Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Foods/U.S. Air Force/STP Ford team had an average finish of 17.9 this season, one of the best in RPM's history. The team finished 17th in points, the best possible under the current points system. The team collected enough points to finish 15th throughout the year.
Sam Hornish and the No. 9 team was supported by various partners in 2015 including Twisted Tea, Medallion Bank, Jacob Companies, SHOP.com, Slim Fast, Blue-Emu SONIC, and others. The team proved again to be one of the best on road courses with a pair of Top-10 finishes.
The organization is poised to return to Victory Lane in 2016 and earn their spot back into The Chase for the Sprint Cup.
A recap of Sunday's race follows:
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Smithfield Ford
A consistently solid season for Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team was spoiled by a mid-race accident that relegated the team to a 41st-place finish. Despite the finish, the team's consistency prevailed, and they finished the season in the 17th spot in the Championship Point Standings, the top non-Chase spot. Throughout the season, they tallied three Top-Five, six Top-10 and 18 Top-15 finishes.
Almirola started the Ford Ecoboost 400 from the 14th spot. The No. 43 Smithfield Ford started off too tight but got better as the run went on. Fluid on the track brought out the first caution on Lap 15. With a pending Competition Caution, the No. 43 team elected to stay out and restarted third. Unfortunately, fresher tires were significantly faster, and Almirola fell back to 22nd by the Competition Caution on Lap 30.
Since the car improved on the long run, Crew Chief Trent Owens called for a four-tire pit stop with no adjustments. A quick pit stop gave the team the 21st spot for the restart. Almirola quickly radioed that the Smithfield Ford was out of control loose.
A caution for an accident on Lap 41 allowed the team to change four tires to see if it was the set of tires that made the car way too loose. Most of the field didn't pit, so Almirola restarted in the 33rd spot. Almirola had a great restart and picked up seven spots to put the No. 43 Smithfield Ford in the 26th position. Unfortunately, contact on Lap 46 sent the No. 15 spinning in front of the No. 43, and Almirola had nowhere to go. The Smithfield Ford smashed into the side of the No. 15 and received hefty damage to the front, right of the Fusion.
The No. 43 Smithfield team went to work to repair the Ford and get back on track. Knowing they had a points battle, they got to work putting a new nose and hood on the car. By Lap 103, Almirola returned to the track. The only car 56 laps down, all Almirola could do was stay on track and log laps until the checkered flag dropped. The team continued to make four tire pit stops as Almirola posted lap times still comparable to the field.
In the end, Almirola crossed the finishline in the 41st spot, 56 laps down. Despite the finish, he held onto the 17th spot in the Championship Point Standings by one point. His most consistent finish of his Sprint Cup Career, Almirola tallied three Top-Five finishes, a career-best, and six Top-10 finishes. Almirola and team finished half the races in the Top-15 and just two DNFs.
"I'm really proud of our team this year," said Almirola. "Our number one goal going into the season was to be more consistent, and we did that. Even on the days where we had issues, we were running in the Top-15. We finished in the top, non-Chase points spot and finished half the races in the Top-15. That's a big jump from last year. Now, we need to regroup in the off-season and make more strides. Our goals will be higher next year, and hopefully, we can use the improvement we had this year to propel us to the next level."
Sam Hornish, No. 9 Cheney Brothers Ford
Defining what their season has been all about, Sam Hornish and the No. 9 Cheney Brothers Ford team overcame adversity and improved their performance during Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway- NASCAR's final race of the 2015 season.. The team finished 25th.
Hornish and the No. 9 team finished the season with three Top-10 finishes and 26th in the championship run.
After starting the race in the 28th position, Hornish and the No. 9 Cheney Brothers Ford team faced adversity early. Within the first 20 laps, oil was laid down and Hornish scraped the wall bringing out the first caution of the race. Hornish was forced down pit road with right-side damage to the car. The crew quickly changed tires and began repairs to the body of the car. The team lost one lap in the accident, but a Competition Caution on Lap 30 put the Cheney Brothers Ford back on the Lead Lap. It also allowed the team to continue to work on the car.
Hornish was quickly able to use the next caution to not pit and leap frog to the 22nd position. But, shortly after, on a Lap 44 restart, a car turned sideways in front of the field. Not only was Almirola caught in the accident, but Hornish was as well. The car only suffered slight contact and the team went back to work on pit road to work on the body.
Not losing a lap, Hornish restarted 37th and started to move forward again. On Lap 85 he was racing in the 31st position and came to pit road on Lap 96 for fuel, tires and chassis adjustments. Hornish had just previously fallen one lap down.
The damage to the car had lifted the splitter and made the handling difficult for Hornish. However, Hornish was still posting good lap times with the repaired car. On Lap 125 he was running 30th.
A Lap 149 caution allowed the team to stay only one lap down and improve their position. The team made chassis adjustments to the car and it was getting better as the sun set. Hornish restarted 26th and on Lap 200 was up to 24th. The team had made tremendous progress.
The remaining of the race, Hornish held onto the 25th position where he finished.
"I just have to thank everyone for all their support and hard work this year," said Hornish. "This team is a great crew and they have a lot of passion to do well. We didn't get all the results we hoped for this season, but nobody ever quit or gave up. We all kept fighting and tonight was no different. Everyone should be proud of the effort all year."