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.