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RPM drivers finish strong, look ahead to 2013

November 21, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



RPM drivers finish strong, look ahead to 2013
Almirola, Ambrose both set to return to Sprint Cup Series next season

A little over 24 hours after Richard Petty Motorsports finally made it official that Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola would return as drivers for the organization in 2013, the pair went out and validated the decision in the final Sprint Cup race of 2012.

Almirola, driving the iconic No. 43 car made famous by none other than Richard Petty himself, continued a late-season charge by starting fifth and finishing seventh in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And he would have finished higher if he hadn't run out of fuel on the final lap.

"We've got a little bit of a foundation built for next year. We've got some work to do, but I feel optimistic about the future and I'm looking forward to 2013."

--MARCOS AMBROSE

"We had a strong car all day," Almirola said. "At the end we were trying to do all we could to save fuel. I wish we would have finished third, but that was a great way to go out. To be third on the white flag [signifying one lap to go] and then finish seventh is disappointing, but that's racing. I could tell it was starting to run out when I came off of [Turn] 4 to take the white, but I'm still proud of my guys and they way they fought."

Almirola also finished fourth at Martinsville during the Chase for the Sprint Cup segment of the season, and led 69 laps at Kansas before an accident took him out.

Ambrose qualified second for the season finale at Homestead last Sunday and led 14 laps during the race. He eventually finished 13th.

"It wasn't really the race we wanted," Ambrose said. "We got off in the middle part of the race, but we finished 13th and we'll take it."

Petty said he is pleased to take both drivers into 2013. The return of Ambrose, who won the road-course race at Watkins Glen for the second consecutive season last August, was a given as long as Ambrose wanted to come back. But Almirola's return was more up in the air, as Petty admitted the organization looked at the possibility of replacing him before settling on giving Almirola another year in the No. 43.

"We've seen a little bit of improvement in him every race from the standpoint that this is really the first time he's ever been with a stable team, or with a team long enough to really get settled in," said Petty, who owns RPM along with investors Andrew Murstein and Doug Bergeron. "He's been at some different places, but he was just thrown in and ran six months or something, so he's never been stable. ... So we felt the improvement we've seen this year, if he could continue to do that, then it's going to be really good."

As for Ambrose, Petty said the driver is consumed by his desire to win on an oval course and prove he's more than simply a road-course specialist in the Sprint Cup Series. Ambrose also has hinted in the past that at some point he would like to return to his native Australia.

"As everybody knows, he's super-good on road courses. But there are just a couple of them and it's hard to just say, 'OK, he's going to win those races and that's it,' " Petty said of Ambrose, who finished the season 18th in points while driving the No. 9 Ford. "But I think we've got him a little more stable now also, so that he's decided he wants to run at least another year over here.

"His big ambition is to win on an oval track. ... One week he's good at it and the next week I don't know, but I think he's getting better at it and, again, it's sort of a passion with him now. He knows he's decent on road courses, but he really, really would love to win on an oval."

The two RPM teams also changed various personnel throughout 2012, but hope they are set for 2013. Both drivers expressed optimism about it.

"I'm excited about next year," said Almirola, who finished 20th in points. "[Crew chief] Todd Parrott and all those guys give me great race cars, so we're going to win races."

Ambrose added: "We've got a little bit of a foundation built for next year. We've got some work to do, but I feel optimistic about the future and I'm looking forward to 2013."