After 2014 Chase berth, Aric Almirola expects “breakout year” for Richard Petty Motorsports

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Aric Almirola was part of one of the biggest surprises of the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season when he pushed Richard Petty Motorsports into the Chase with a rain-shortened win at Daytona in July.

He would be bounced from the postseason in the opening Challenger Round, but Almirola and the No. 43 team had still achieved their two biggest aspirations for the season.

“We went out and set some pretty lofty goals for ourselves to get the 43 car back to Victory Lane and try to make the Chase, and we were able to do both those things,” he said this morning during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. “I think we surprised some people and I think we had a really good year. But we wanna grow from that.”

Now, Almirola expects in his words, a “breakout year,” in 2015. With steady backing from an array of sponsors (more details here), RPM’s move to a larger shop in Mooresville, N.C., and the addition of Sam Hornish Jr. as a teammate, Almirola sees big things ahead.

Bringing Sam on board on that 9 team there is gonna be a big boost for our race team, and the shop – just getting everybody on the same page and working together,” Almirola said. “I couldn’t be more proud of where Richard Petty Motorsports is at today compared to where it was at three years ago when I [joined the team.]

“And even more so than just last year. Last offseason, we were working hard but we were only working hard with the tools that we had. Now, we have more tools than we’ve ever had since I’ve been there, so I’m excited about it. I think everybody at the shop is too.”

Almirola’s Daytona win was enough to overcome what had been an inconsistent 2014 regular season. He (along with former RPM teammate Marcos Ambrose) was notably strong on short tracks such as Bristol and Martinsville, but wasn’t always as solid on the intermediate ovals.

In a one-on-one today with NASCAR AMERICA’s Jason Weigandt, Almirola admitted that his team couldn’t always figure out why the car would be so up-and-down from week to week. But in their new shop – which allows for bodies to be hung on RPM’s chassis and also has more space for engineering and simulation – Almirola thinks problems will be pinpointed much quicker.

“Working in our own shop and being able to see our race cars go through the production and assembly, and if [crew chief] Trent [Owens] wants to go and change something on the car, he can watch our car get wheeled back into the [fabrication] shop and they can cut on it, work on it – he can oversee that,” Almirola said.

“Then we can watch it go through the paint/body shop and watch it get assembled. We’re gonna have our hands on the cars a lot more this year. We think – we hope – that it will produce results for us and make a lot more consistency.”

As for where Almirola thinks the No. 43 may shine in 2015, he obviously looks at Daytona (he told Weigandt that his winning car from last July will be his primary car for next month’s Daytona 500) and the short tracks.

But he knows that improved results are needed everywhere.

“We need to look at our schedule and look at where we ran really well [in 2014], and try to do better,” he said. “Then we need to look at the places where we ran 25th and try to run 15th. If we do that, I think we’re going to be in contention to win another race and make the Chase.”

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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