NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 16 Aric Almirola

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Aric Almirola

Season finish: 16th

2014 Season Stats: 1 Win, 2 Top-5s, 7 Top-10s, 0 Poles.

What went right: After Almirola made his way to the front in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July, steady rains forced NASCAR to call the race after 112 of 160 scheduled laps. The victory was not only Almirola’s first in Sprint Cup competition, but the first for the legendary No. 43 machine since 1999. It also came 30 years after the No. 43’s iconic driver, seven-time Cup champ Richard Petty, earned his 200th and final career win at the “World Center of Racing.” All in all, not a bad way to make your first Chase.

What went wrong: Before and after Daytona, noticeably strong results were few for Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports. More often than not in the regular season, they were running mid-pack – and to be honest, that’s where you’d expect them to be. But the 43 camp would look to step up in the Chase, and in the opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Almirola charged into the Top 5 only to lose the motor late in the race. Instead of a great finish that would boost his hopes of advancing out of the Challenger Round, he got a 41st-place result that snuffed those hopes out.

2015 Prospectus: Much like fellow 2014 Chase “wild card” A.J. Allmendinger and his JTG Daugherty team, Almirola and RPM must become regulars in at least the Top 10-15 each week. To do that, they’re gonna have to make up a good amount of ground in performance. They’ll look to reach said goal during what will be a busy year for the team – RPM is setting up shop at a new/old location in Mooresville, N.C., and former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. is making his full-time Cup return as Almirola’s teammate.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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