Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) celebrated the life of Mrs. Lynda Petty this past week and paid tribute to the matriarch of the Petty family by finishing Top-10 in Sunday's STP 500 at the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway Sunday afternoon.
Marcos Ambrose and the No. 9 DEWALT Ford team finished fifth while Aric Almirola raced the famous STP colors and the No. 43 Ford to an eighth-place finish. The results marked the 100th and 101st Top-10 finishes in RPM's short history. In 516 starts since 2009, with seven different drivers, RPM has averaged a Top-10 every five races.
Ambrose and Almirola account for 41 of the Top-10 finishes and the duo have finished in the Top-10 a total of four times this season. They have done so together twice over the past month. Ambrose was very strong in Sunday's event and led for a total of 22 laps.
RPM closes the month of March and the first six races of the season in a strong position in the Championship as well. Ambrose is currently 14th in the standings and is currently in position for a "Chase" birth. Almirola, who was wrecked in California, has rebounded and is only 20 points out of the Top-15 in championship standings.
This is the best start since the ownership of Richard Petty, Andrew Murstein and Doug Bergeron have taken control of the company.
A highlight of each teams day follows:
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 DEWALT Ford
Marcos Ambrose started Sunday's 500-lap race in the 17th position and finished in fifth after leading 22 laps and being a contender for the race win all afternoon. The fifth-place finish is his second in the first six races and 17th in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. The RPM driver is 14th in the championship standings and currently in position to make the "Chase."
Ambrose felt he had a fast DEWALT Ford early in the event, telling his Crew Chief that the car was capable of winning. In the opening 100 laps Ambrose passed 12 cars as the No. 9 pit crew did their part on pit road picking up positions after blistering-fast pit stops. With Ambrose in fifth, the march to the front wasn't complete. Ambrose was fourth after 150 laps and when the fifth caution waved on Lap 171, the No. 9 pit crew gave Ambrose the lead off pit road.
Ambrose led the event from laps 173 to 194 before racing back in the top-five. As the race reached halfway, Ambrose was in the worst position he'd been all day. After having to restart on the outside groove, he fell back to 15th. But, the team made slight adjustments to an already fast car and Ambrose climbed back through the field. Over the next 150 laps, to Lap 400, Ambrose raced back into the Top-10.
Having saved his equipment, Ambrose used the last 100 laps to move back into contention to win. With 50 laps left in the race, the team was back in the top-five and even third with 25 laps left. Through the final 35 laps under green, Ambrose raced hard to finish fifth, his second Top-Five over the past three races.
"We spent a lot of money and a lot of effort in getting Richard Petty Motorsports back on the map and I think you're seeing the results," said Ambrose. "We've been fast for about four weeks in a row and we're just starting to hit our stride. We're gonna win one of these soon and lock ourselves in the Chase and feel good about our chances.
"It's just a really proud day for the DEWALT team for Richard Petty Motorsports. We've had a really tough week. We lost Miss Lynda. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Petty family right now. We really wanted to win for them bad out there, but we'll take a top five. We're really proud of our efforts. We had great pit stops all day. Our guys probably had their best day on pit road in a long time and Drew Blickensderfer and Derek on the pit box made great calls late in the race. If we would have had another round of pit stops, we might have had something for them."
Aric Almirola, No. 43 STP Ford
Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Petty Blue and Day-Glo STP throwback machine took the green flag from the 20th spot. The crew made multiple adjustments throughout the race and gained spots on pit road to take the checkered flag in the eighth position. The finish is Almirola's 14th Top-10 in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, second this season, and second over the past three races.
The No. 43 STP Ford started from the 20th spot and raced to 16th in the first 50 laps and moved to 11th after the opening 100 laps. Like many on a cold track, Almirola asked for more grip into the turns, but had still passed nine cars on the track and had help with a fast pit crew.
The second, outside groove, never worked in during Sunday's race, making it very difficult to restart on the outside groove. Almirola slid back as far as 17th before racing back to 12th by Lap 200 and into eighth. Through Lap 300 the famed STP No. 43 was in the top-10 and had many fans in Martinsville excited and filled of memories.
Almirola raced as high as seventh, but just didn't have the grip and bite in the car to get any further. The final pit stop, the team got four tires and a great pit stop put the team fourth on the restart. The outside line was tough to restart in and Almirola raced to the eighth spot at the end.
"We went back and forth on our adjustments and never really got it exactly where we needed it, but I'm really proud of all the guys at Richard Petty Motorsports," said Almirola. "Marcos had a really good run as well, so we're doing things right. If we keep running like this, we'll get to victory lane."
"Our car was very touchy to the clouds. When it would cloud up my car would get real loose and then when the sun would come out my car would get better and it would tighten out, but we bounced around on adjustments all day and couldn't ever get the car balanced right. We would either be too tight or too loose and we really struggled for forward drive, which really hurt us on longer runs. All in all, I'm still really proud of these guys. Everybody on this STP Ford Fusion did a great job and we'll take an eighth after last weekend, get some points back and keep going."