Aric Almirola Needs To Capture A Strong Finish At Darlington Raceway On Sundayby Hunter Thomas September 5, 2015 0 comments
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas
DARLINGTON, SC – Aric Almirola enters Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, just 35 points away from a slot in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 STP team unloaded at Darlington Raceway with a 1972 throwback scheme and crew shirts. Almirola even took the throwback a step further and grew a mustache to honor Richard Petty.
“Like I said earlier, I think it is really cool to be able to honor all the guys, the crew guys and drivers and stuff that came before us,” Almirola said. “Obviously we have a very special situation having STP as the sponsor that has been sponsoring Richard for over 40 years. To have that opportunity to kind of go back in time is really fun. I don’t think it is a distraction at all. I think it is fun, all the crew guys are enjoying it and I think it is exciting. It gives everybody a chance to break up the monotony of showing up to the race track with kind of the same old thing every week.”
All fun aside, Almirola and the team are just outside of the Chase with only Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the final cutoff race next week at Richmond International Raceway to go. With Kyle Busch currently within the top-30 in the championship point standings, Clint Bowyer who is sitting 15th holds the final transfer spot. With only two races remaining, Almirola and his team certainly have a realistic chance, but they can’t afford any hiccups.
“They’ve (Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 15 team) also got off to a little bit of a rocky start this weekend, not qualifying well,” Almirola said. “We’re certainly aware of the 15 (Clint Bowyer) and some of the other guys around us that we’re racing in the points. We’ve just got to do our deal. We’ve got to race our race, and we’ve got to maximize our day, and we can’t really worry about everybody else. We’ve just got to go out. If we have a car capable of running top-10, that’s what we need to do, and if we have a car capable of running top-15, that’s what we need to do and kind of let the cards play out how they do”
Almirola and his team sit 16th in the championship point standings and are just 35 points behind Bowyer. So far this season, the team has accumulated one top-five and one top-10 finish. His best finish this season was fifth at Dover International Speedway back in May.
“We have been consistent this year,” Almirola said. “We haven’t had the speed we want. That is just being real. Our cars haven’t been as fast as we have hoped. But we have executed and gotten the finishes when we have had bad days and turned them into okay days and turned okay days into good days.”
As for Almirola’s past performances at Darlington Raceway, he has only three starts at the Lady In Black. His best finish of 19th came back in 2012 when he made his first visit to the raceway. In 2013, Almirola finished 20th, and last season, he started third but fell back and finished 24th. If he’s going to make the Chase, the No. 43 team must capture a strong performance to have a realistic shot at sliding into one of the final spots.
“I think when you are mathematically still in – until somebody tells us we are not I feel like we have a shot,” Almirola said. “I have been really proud of what we have accomplished this year. Last year we were 25th or 26th in points but we made the Chase because we won at Daytona. This year, I feel like if we made the Chase we certainly earned it.”
With Darlington native, Trent Owens on top of the pit box serving as crew chief, earning a solid finish on Sunday night would be really special. Owens has been with the team since last season when they made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time.
“It is home,” Owens said. “Anytime you come home it is good. Darlington is one of the toughest places we go. It is mentally demanding, physically demanding and tough on the crew chiefs. I won a race here with Jamie McMurray way back when I worked on that team and that was really special. Hopefully we can have a good race this weekend and find ourselves in victory lane.”
Aric Almirola was 29th fastest in opening practice, but the team improved to 13th in final practice. On Saturday during Coors Light Pole Qualifying, Almirola ran the 11th fastest lap in the final round, so the team will have a great pit stall for Sunday’s race.
“It’s always important to start up front at every racetrack, but Darlington even more so than most other because it’s narrow. There’s not a lot of room to race. We kind if run single file right up against the fence, so it makes it challenging to pass.”
The Bojangles’ Southern 500 will broadcast live on NBC and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 7 p.m. ET, Sunday night.