Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
Crew Chief: Trent Owens
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Best Finish: 18th (2013)
Inaugural Chase Appearance
Regular Season Recap: Beyond the short tracks of Bristol and Martinsville, Almirola had been largely ensconced in mid-pack through the first half of 2014. But then came a soggy Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, which ended on a rain shower and with Almirola at the front of the field. Rain-shortened or not, a win’s a win and it put him into the Chase. Since that point, however, Almirola has pretty much returned to mid-pack status with just one Top-10 finish (ninth at Atlanta) following his victory.
Chris’ Take: A championship is simply too big a goal right now for Almirola and the mid-sized RPM team, and they probably know that. They also probably know that they can’t rely on another shock win to get them out of the Challenger Round. Almirola hasn’t been terrible on 1.5-milers like Chicagoland, but he hasn’t been a contender. And his past records at Loudon and Dover aren’t exactly robust. In order to advance, he and RPM have to pick up their performance. It’s that simple.
Jerry’s Take: As we see almost every year in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a Cinderella team emerges and winds up going to at least the semifinals, if not further. In this case, Almirola has the potential to be NASCAR’s Cinderella, but he definitely has to step up his performance and go for the jugular in the first round. He has to drive it like he stole it, because there’s nine other guys who are going to do the same. This will be where Almirola shows that he not only has the talent to reach the championship round, but that he’ll pull off a few surprises along the way to do it.
Tony’s Take: Isn’t it cool to say the 43 has a shot to win the championship? Yes it is. And quite likely, that’s about the only thing cool we’ll be saying about the 43 in this year’s Chase. Almirola is the biggest unknown quantity in the pressure cooker of a playoff – even more than Allmendinger, who fought for open-wheel titles. It’s hard to see them doing much of anything, and if they escape the Challenger Round, that will be a major accomplishment.
Aric Almirola’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, no Top-10s in 2 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – No wins, 1 Top-5, 1 Top-10 in 8 starts
Dover (1 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 1 Top-10 in 5 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 3 Top-10s in 5 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, no Top-10s in 5 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 1 Top-10s in 9 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – No win, 1 Top-5, 3 Top-10s in 11 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, 1 Top-10s in 7 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – No wins, no Top-5s, no Top-10s in 7 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – No wins, 1 Top-5, 2 Top-10s in 4 starts