Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM), and its NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, left California with different milestones met. For Ambrose, it was matching a mark for all Petty drivers in the future to reach and for Almirola it was another improvement on a road course.
Ambrose and the No. 9 DEWALT Ford team led RPM with an eighth-place finish on Sunday. The road course specialist led five laps late in the race and earned his sixth consecutive Top-10 finish at the track. The finish was his 29th Top-10 while racing for "The King" Richard Petty as an owner and ties him with the most for Petty since 1993 with the late Bobby Hamilton.
Almirola and the No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford finished 23rd, scoring his second Top-25 at the technical road course. The goal was a Top-20, but Almirola had damage to his car during the race and the team raced with damage to their fender. Still, it was a good finish for Almirola who continues to improve at road courses.
A highlight of each team's race follows:
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 DEWALT Ford
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford
Almirola started the 110-lap race from the 29th spot with a goal finish in the Top-20. In the first 15 laps, Almirola got a feel for the No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford. While racing in the 26th spot, he told Crew Chief Trent Owens that the car needed more front turn. As green-flag pit stops started, he continued that the car was losing grip in the front tires later in the run. On Lap 23, Owens called for a four-tire pit stop and an air pressure adjustment.
He drove the "Petty Blue" Ford into the 23rd spot when NASCAR Officials called the first caution on Lap 32. Owens called the No. 43 back to pit road, and the Nathan's Famous team continued to work on the car's handling during the four-tire stop. With some teams pitting and some staying out, the No. 43 team restarted 24th. Almirola raced as high as 22nd before the next round of green-flag pit stops started. On Lap 55, the No. 43 team made another four-tire pit stop and air pressure adjustment.
On Lap 62, NASCAR Officials called a caution for a stalled car with Almirola in 26th. Since they were not in their fuel window, Owens told Almirola to stay out, and the No. 43 Nathan's Famous restarted 19th. Cars raced hard and two-wide on the restart resulting in contact on the track. The No. 43 had damage to the front-left fender and had to pit earlier than planned. The team changed four tires and cut away the damage to the front-left fender.
The No. 43 Nathan's Famous car restarted 29th on Lap 75. The team stayed out during the next two cautions and raced into the 18th spot when an accident on the frontstretch brought out the final caution on Lap 92. With new tires significantly improving lap times, Owens called Almirola down pit road for four fresh tires to make a final run. Almirola restarted 21st and finished 23rd.
"Our goal was to finish in the Top-20," said Almirola. "We were almost there but just missed it. The car was pretty good throughout the race, and Trent (Owens) and the guys made good adjustments. We had some damage to the front of the car. The guys did a good job fixing the damage, but in the end, it hurt us. We'll take a 23rd-place finish and look forward to next weekend at Kentucky Speedway."