For the third consecutive season, Richard Petty Motorsports will see a different driver lineup in 2016. Back in December, it was announced that Brian Scott would be aligning himself with RPM for his rookie campaign in the Sprint Cup Series. Alongside Aric Almirola, Scott will look to have a solid first season with the newly acquainted No. 44 team.
Almirola has become the elder statesman at RPM as he has seen the transition from Marcos Ambrose, to Sam Hornish, Jr. and now Scott. The No. 43 team missed out on the opportunity to qualify for its second-consecutive Chase birth in 2015, but is looking to have more success this upcoming season.
In 2015, Almirola recorded his best average finish of 17.9 since becoming a full-time driver in the Cup Series. However, the Florida native seemed to finish between the 11th to 15th positions more than they finished in the top 10.
As the season went on, the team began to build momentum. Recording just six top-10 finishes in the 36 races, Almirola is looking to build upon the newly formed relationship with Scott and make RPM an elite threat for the Chase, and possibly even the championship.
“I’ve kind of learned over the years starting at a very young age in this sport how to communicate with new teammates,” Almirola said Wednesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “Everyone is going to have their own driving style. No two drivers in the entire garage are going to drive exactly the same. No two drivers are going to have the same feedback about their car. It’s really just learning about what to work on your car.”
Consistency has been a big part of the success that the No. 43 team has had over the four seasons that Almirola has been the driver. Prior to Almirola joining the stable in 2012, there were drivers coming and going when it came to sitting behind the wheel of the historic car. Over a six year period, the famed car had four drivers between 2007 to 2012. Since then, Almirola has become the franchise of RPM and has elevated its program.
This will be the third season that Trent Owens has been atop the pit box as crew chief for Almirola. Over the span of the last two seasons, Almirola and he have established a relationship that has led to success. More importantly, they have brought RPM more success than in previous years.
“Our goal is to run in the top 10,” Owens said. “We had top-15s last year. I don’t know how many 11th-place finishes we had last year, but we need to have better Friday’s. We’ve got to work on showing up better on Friday and that should translate into better finishes on Sunday.”
In reality, Almirola finished 11th four times, which would have been four more points toward securing a spot in the Chase. If he were to have a better finish at tracks such as Indianapolis or Pocono, where he blew an engine, the No. 43 team would have made the Chase for the second consecutive season.
“The weekends that you are off you can work with your teammates and really dive into looking at your stuff and try to work with as open of a notebook as you can,” Almirola said. “You went to work with them to the extent that you don’t hurt them with all of the information based on ‘This is what I’ve done because this is how I drive’ I feel like I’ve always done a good job at that.”
The aforementioned Scott has been successful in the XFINITY Series, but never crossed the checkered flag first. Since he is competing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year, there is no doubt that he will find himself in some precarious on-track situations throughout the course of the season.
“There will be a lot of challenges,” Scott said to Speedway Digest. “I think that not one big challenge will be hard to overcome, but it’s all the little challenges that really add up that make it tough week-in and week-out.”
In 17 career Cup starts, Scott has never recorded a top-10 finish, yet has a pole at Talladega while driving the No. 33. There were many of instances in 2015 while driving for Circle Sport Racing, aligned with Richard Childress Racing that he had solid top 15 runs, but dropped positions late in the race. In 10 races last season he finished on the lead lap just four times.
Throughout his XFINITY Series career, Scott could never finish the deal and solidify a victory. He was able to finish inside the top 10 about one-third of the time that he strapped behind the wheel. Scott believes that aligning himself with RPM is the career move that he needed and it happened at the right time.
“We really haven’t been able to work super close as far as race weekends when it comes to both of our cars being on track and how they are handling,” Scott said on teaming up with Almirola. “I’m looking forward to that. I think that his feedback is really good. I think that he has a very good understanding of the car and he’s been with Richard Petty Motorsports now for a long time. He knows what it takes to be successful there.”
One of the keys for RPM in 2016 will be how they adapt to the new rules package. With the lower downforce put on the racecars the opportunity is more in the drivers’ hands. It allows the driver the ability to really drive the car and be in more control on the overall race.
In order for it to be a successful season for RPM, the organization will need to run near the front. Last year the team combined to have just nine top-10 finishes. This year with the rejuvenated driver lineup, it is likely that the results will be better for RPM.
The No. 43 is back in Victory Lane. It is the first time the legendary car number made famous by Richard Petty has won its first race since 1999 at the Martinsville Speedway, and it did so in an untraditional way.
Aric Almirola drove his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford to the front of the pack after the Coke Zero 400 was postponed to Sunday morning after being originally scheduled for Saturday evening. As the rain came, Almirola held off the competition in one of the wildest races of the year. The rain was on and off during Sunday’s event, but it did not hold off long enough as NASCAR opted to end the race after having multiple red flags.
This is Almirola’s first career victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 125 starts. RPM has won their first event since Marcos Ambrose scored the victory at Watkins Glen in 2012. The team has not had a driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup since 2009 with Kasey Kahne, and now it appears Almirola will be the first one since for RPM.
Brian Vickers came home in the runner-up position for Michael Waltrip Racing. Entering Daytona, his best finish of the year was fourth (Texas and Talladega). Austin Dillon scored his first career top-five finish as he ended the rainy day in the fifth position. Michael McDowell earned his best career finish as he ended the Coke Zero 400 in seventh. Terry Labonte finished 11th in his final race at the Daytona International Speedway. Alex Bowman earned a career-best finish of 13th while racing for BK Racing.
While approaching the competition caution on Lap 20, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the second car on the high line when he got loose at the exit of Turn 4. Jeff Gordon tried to avoid him, but in doing so – got into Tony Stewart, causing the big one. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, A.J. Allmendinger received the most damage in the wreck, but other drivers also had minor bruises to their vehicles. Johnson recorded his first DNF since blowing an engine at Michigan in August of 2013, and it is the first time he is out of a race for an accident for the first time since Atlanta in September of 2012.
“We had the outside lane working there and it seemed like some of the guys were struggling on the bottom and the middle and we got a little loose on the top. I save it and everything was good and then all of a sudden we got hit in the left rear. I am not real sure what happened,” Stenhouse Jr. said after the accident.
On Lap 97, Kasey Kahne got loose on the backstretch after Greg Biffle got into him – causing mayhem entering Turn 3. Kyle Busch flipped during the wreck, and landed on his roof. The red flag was displayed for approximately five minutes to clear up the wreck which included 26 cars.
“David Ragan gave me a big push and then Kasey (Kahne) got up and went to the middle and ran into the back of the 13 car and slowed way up and I hit the back of the 5. We weren’t lined up. He moved down for some reason when he hit the 13 or something. It was just a chain reaction,” Biffle said.
“I don’t know what happened. From where I was at all heck broke loose all at once and tore up a bunch of good race cars. I am proud of our guys. Our Love’s Travel Shop Ford was fast all day and sometimes that stuff just happens and this time we were in the middle of it,” pole sitter, Gilliland said after leading five laps on Sunday.
After leading 11 laps in the race, Jamie McMurray was also involved in the accident. McMurray said he saw what was happening in front of him, but there was just not enough time for him to react. His No. 1 Chevrolet went airborne after getting hit in the rear-end on the backstretch.