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.