Aric Almirola sets new Darlington track record, starts P3 tomorrow

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For the sixth time this season, a Sprint Cup track record was set in qualifying as Aric Almirola became the fastest man ever at venerable Darlington Raceway this evening.

Almirola logged a lap of 184.145 miles per hour in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion during the second round of the three-round knockout qualifying for tomorrow’s Bojangles Southern 500.

That made him tops among the 12 drivers that advanced to the final round, but Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano were able to beat him in those last five minutes, putting Almirola third on the starting grid.

“We just missed it a little bit [in the final round],” Almirola said. “We made one adjustment right there before that third session and I don’t think we went far enough. We were just a little bit too tight, but that was a heck of a lap by Harvick.

“That track record lap actually didn’t feel – I felt like I was going faster in the third session than I did in the second session, and I went faster in the second session. It was a great lap for us.”

Lately, RPM has focused on its intermediate program, which has lacked so far this year in comparison to the team’s work on short tracks.

Today, it paid off with Almirola qualifying third and teammate Marcos Ambrose qualifying alongside him in fourth.

“Typically, we’ve not run really well on short tracks and our mile-and-a-half program has where we’ve been best. But the roles are kind of reversed this year, and we’ve put a lot of effort into our mile-and-a-half program, and we ran a lot better at Texas.

“[We’re] still not where we need to be, but ran a lot better and then brought a race car here this weekend…[that] has a lot of speed in it. I feel really good about it.”

Almirola also wants to do well for his crew chief, Trent Owens, who is having a homecoming weekend at the track “Too Tough To Tame.” Owens grew up just a few miles from Darlington.

“I told him before we ever got here that he was gonna have to carry me this weekend because I do not like this race track and I tend to struggle here,” Almirola said. “So far, he’s carrying me pretty good. He brought me a really good car that’s got a lot of speed in it.

“Now we’ve gotta make it last 500 miles.”

Carlos Munoz back at Andretti Autosport for 2018 Indy 500

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After posting two runner-up finishes and three top-five results in four starts with Andretti Autosport at the Indianapolis 500, Colombian Carlos Munoz will come home to the team as its sixth driver in the 2018 race. He’ll instantly vault into win contention, given his pedigree at the Speedway and joining Andretti’s team that has won three of the last four ‘500s there.

Munoz raced full-time with Andretti Autosport from 2014 through 2016. While he scored his first career win at Detroit race one in 2015, and was series rookie of the year in 2014, it’s his runner-up results as a race rookie in 2013 and again in the 2016 race to teammate Alexander Rossi that loom largest.

Now, Munoz, who spent a single season at A.J. Foyt Enterprises before both he and Conor Daly were not retained for a second year, will join Andretti’s full-season quartet of Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach along with previously announced fifth driver Stefan Wilson.

This will add another confirmed Honda entry to next year’s race. Honda has 12 full-season entries expected among Andretti’s four cars, then two apiece from the Ganassi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Schmidt Peterson and Coyne teams.

That number grows with Andretti’s two extra cars, and the combination of the SPM/Michael Shank car for Jack Harvey to confirm at least 15 Hondas for the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Honda has traditionally capped its number of entries at 18 cars.

The full release is below.

A familiar face will make its way back to the Andretti Autosport stable for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race as Carlos Muñoz returns to the team, vying for his chance to kiss the bricks.

Muñoz made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport at the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he finished second, earning himself Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors. The Colombian-native went on to compete full time with the team the following year. In 2016, Muñoz once again finished runner-up when his rookie teammate, Alexander Rossi, crossed the Yard of Bricks on a fuel-saving strategy to win the 100th Indy 500.

“I am very excited to be a part of Andretti Autosport again,” said Muñoz. “The team has been like family to me since day one, when I joined them five years ago to race Indy Lights. We have been so close to winning the Indy 500 – twice with the team – so I am especially excited to be back for that race and hopefully we will have a good result this year. I need to thank Michael [Andretti] and J-F [Thormann] for believing in me and wanting me to back in their car for the Indy 500. I am also excited to be back with my teammates, and I think we will continue to work really well together. We have six cars, so hopefully we will have a strong team working with the new [aero kit]. I am really looking forward to it – hopefully we can finally get that win we’ve been so close to.”

Muñoz will look to pick up where he left off with Andretti Autosport and add to the team’s historical success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team mirror’s Muñoz’s enthusiasm and is excited to have secured its complete lineup before the new year.

“We’re thrilled to have Carlos back in an Andretti car for the Indy 500,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “There is no denying that Carlos has talent at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway], he’s finished runner-up twice and that has fueled his determination to get to victory lane. He has already built relationships with his teammates and many of those on our crew, so it should be a seamless process for our six cars when they head out for the first time together.”

The veteran driver has built a resume that consists of 70 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, one win (Detroit Race 1, 2015), one pole position (Texas, 2016) and seven podiums. Muñoz competed under the Andretti shield from 2013 to 2016 and finished 17th in the 2017 IndyCar season.

Andretti Autosport has collected five Indianapolis 500 victories (Wheldon/’05, Franchitti/’06, Hunter-Reay/’14, Rossi/’16, Sato/’17) and seeks to become only the second team to earn three consecutive Indy 500 wins. Muñoz will join teammates Rossi, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson on opening day in May for the team’s six-car effort.