Monday, Jan 17

MENCS: Almirola Scores Second Top 10 Finish of 2017 at Richmond

Aric Almirola left Richmond International Raceway on Sunday with his second top-10 finish of the season with Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola started the day in 25th and finished the long afternoon sitting ninth on the leaderboard in the No. 43 Ford. The ninth-place finish did not come easy for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.

After starting the race in 25th, Almirola quickly made progress when the event got underway. He eventually cracked the top 10 just before the end of stage one but lost some track position because of older tires. He then went on to finish stage one sitting 12th on the scoring monitor.

In stage two of the Toyota Owners 400, Almirola fell a couple of spots back in his No. 43 Ford because the car wouldn’t turn as it did in stage one. The stage also went without a caution and didn’t help the team as they were on older tires. The Florida native went on to finish 18th in stage two.

The final stage of the race went much better for the team despite a commitment line violation. Once they got fresh tires, the team gained ground to the 13th spot by lap 250 and remained inside the top 15 until lap 300. On lap 319, Almirola was popped for a commitment line violation and was forced to serve a pass through on lap 326. Despite having that issue, a caution fell with 70 laps remaining, allowing the No. 43 Ford to take the wave around to get back onto the lead lap.

Almirola quickly recovered from the penalty and found himself back into the top 15 20 laps later. The team pulled off fast pit stops in the caution filled stage three and later found themselves just inside the top 10. The 33-year old driver would stay in the ninth position to capture his second top 10 finish of the season.

“It was a solid day for us. I am really proud of everybody on the Smithfield Ford Fusion here,” said Almirola after the race. “We had a good day. We needed that. We typically run well here. This is one of our better tracks. It is great to get a good solid finish here in Richmond, Virginia, Smithfield headquarters aren’t far away and we had a lot of friends and family of employees at the race. It was a solid top-10 and I am really proud of the effort today.”

Almirola leaves Richmond International Raceway sitting 19th in points – just four points out of 16th.

The team’s best finish of the season through nine races came in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Almirola started 13th in the annual Daytona 500 and went on to capture a fourth-place finish after leading two of the 200 circuits.

The veteran driver says they have made a lot of gains from last year to this year.

“There are a lot of gains from last year to this year,” said Almirola. “We have two Top-10 finishes on two different styles of tracks. We just need to gain a little more, but we feel that we can just keep getting stronger. Drew and the guys did a great job with our car today and we just kept fighting. The track didn’t have a lot of grip, so we really needed those tires. It helped us out and made a difference. I’m proud of the team and to have this run for Smithfield at their home track.”

In 11 starts at the 0.750-mile Richmond oval, Almirola holds one top five and four top 10 finishes. His best finish there came in September of 2015 where he took home a fourth-place finish for Richard Petty Motorsports after starting 24th. The Florida native holds an average start of 22.0 and an average finish of 16.2.

The series travels to Talladega Superspeedway this upcoming weekend and will be an important race for the single-car operation. Talladega, a 2.66-mile superspeedway, is a track that all small teams like Richard Petty Motorsports circle on their calendar.

Almirola won a rain shortened race at Daytona International Speedway, a sister track like Talladega, in July of 2014. The veteran led 14 of the 112 circuits to capture his one and only victory so far in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

In 14 starts at Talladega, Almirola has two top 10 finishes, including a pole in 2013. His best finish there came the last time out when he took his No. 43 Smithfield Ford to an eighth-place finish in October of 2016. He started 26th earlier that afternoon.

Brett Winningham

Brett has been following the sport of NASCAR since the beginning of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Since Brett was 13, he has had a passion of chasing a job in sports that not many get the opportunity of doing. He has been in the NASCAR media since the middle of the 2010 season. Since then, he has been a part of many racing podcast shows to improve his talents. You can find him on twitter @NASCAR_Brett.

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